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Man’s Game, Rich

The Dodgers don’t lose. They really don’t, so when they do, it’s noticeable. And last night it was brutal. Absolutely brutal. Not just for the Dodger players, or Dodger fans, but for anyone with a soul.

Last September, Dodger pitcher Rich Hill had a no-hitter through seven innings, but manager Dave Roberts removed him with the no-hitter intact because of a concern about developing blisters. It was an excruciating decision for the manager and the pitcher. That was history in the making. How many other chances would he ever get to throw a no hitter? Turns out, he’d get at least one more.

Last night in Pittsburgh, Rich Hill was masterful and ruthlessly efficient, throwing just 87 pitches to get through the first eight innings without letting anyone on base. This is a guy who didn’t start a major league game from 2009 to 2015. If anyone deserved a Hollywood moment, it was Rich Hill. And last night had all the makings of just that Hollywood moment, even down to Chase Utley picking him up with an incredible defensive play.

Every perfect game or no-hitter seems to have that one moment a fielder makes a spectacular play to pick up the pitcher, so when Utley did that, it was on. Hill took a perfect game into the 9th inning and then, Logan Forsythe, playing third in place of Justin Turner, was eaten up by the ball. Error. Perfect game over. No matter. Hill kept rolling and got out of the 9th inning with the no-hitter intact.

One problem. While Rich Hill was no-hitting the Pirates, the Dodgers were effectively no-hitting themselves. Well, no-scoring themselves is more accurate. Because they had plenty of hits, eight to be exact, and four walks, but no runs to show for it.

Which is why the game went to the 10th inning. And then this happened in the bottom of the 10th on the fourth pitch to Josh Harrison.

Perfect game spoiled by an error. No-hitter spoiled by a walk off bomb. Not only does Rich Hill not get the perfect game, he doesn’t get the no-hitter, and he gets a loss. That’s a truckload of salt in the wound. He did make history, though, as the first pitcher in history to lose a no-hitter on a walkoff homer. And his teammates were gutted for him.

Austin Barnes: “It hurts.”

Corey Seager: “I really don’t have the words for that. It just sucks that we couldn’t do that for him.”

Saying something sucks is not a take, but that sucks. That really, really sucks. Yes, he went 9 no-hit innings, so some folks might want to call that a no-hitter, but it’s not. And Rich Hill doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who’d want to count it that way either. “If I said that’s baseball, it’s cliché, but that’s the way the game is. That’s why it’s fun.”

Fun? That was painful, but not for Hill, who has been through far, far worse in his life. And he wasn’t looking to blame anyone other than himself. “It falls on me, on this one. One bad pitch.”

I could argue that it was on the Dodgers hitters, who picked the worse time ever to go silent, leaving 11 guys on base when just one run at any point in the first nine innings would’ve been enough for Hill to make history. But Hill’s not hearing any of that. Because that’s Rich Hill.

This guy had a chance at a no-hitter ripped from him last year by his manager, and less than a year later, lost a perfect game in the 9th and a no-hitter on a walkoff and he’s acting like it’s no big thing. Most people in his shoes would be raging. Or crying. Or both. But he took it like he was told the restaurant’s out of Earl Grey and they only have English Breakfast.

If you were looking for Rich Hill to make it about Rich Hill, you were begging. There’s no way that guy is going to make it about himself, or feel sorry for himself. Instead, he wanted to talk about Utley’s play in the field or how he’d changed his mechanics. Or just about getting ready for the next game.

“I try to keep everything as simple as possible and don’t think of it as bigger than it is. We lost a ballgame. We have something bigger than any individual going on here. We’re in it for the delayed gratification, not the instant gratification.” Respect. Not just for the game that he pitched, but how he handled what came after.

Man’s game, Rich.

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