LOS ANGELES — Rich Hill’s winding, improbable path to this moment — a Game 4 start Saturday — features one particularly important and coincidental institution: the Dodgers’ World Series opponent, the Red Sox.
“I wouldn’t be standing here,” Hill said recently, “if it wasn’t for that organization.”
Hill was speaking professionally, but it’s also true personally.
Growing up as a Red Sox fan in suburban Boston, Hill was a regular at Fenway Park, those memories of “the best piece of grass in the city,” as he called it, still vivid in his 38-year-old mind. From Dwight Evans and Wade Boggs to Mo Vaughn and Nomar Garciaparra, the Red Sox stars of yesteryear were part of Hill’s childhood and helped shape his love for the game. When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, their first title in 86 years, Hill, by then a minor-league pitcher for the Cubs, went to the parade.
Fast forward 11 years, and Hill was an unemployed side-arming reliever who had a lengthy injury history and was borderline elderly on baseball’s age spectrum — 35 years old — and trying to remake himself into an over-the-top starter in the summer of 2015. He was working out with his old American Legion team, at home in Milton, Massachusetts, where he still lives in the offseason
The Long Island Ducks called and gave him a contract. “It was incredible to play for an organization that gave guys an opportunity to continue their career,” Hill said. That didn’t last long — two starts — before that central childhood figure, the Red Sox, offered him a spot with Triple-A Pawtucket.
From there, Hill’s career took off again. Five games in Pawtucket. Four more in Boston, and with a 1.55 ERA and a shutout to boot. That earned him a major-league contract with Oakland for 2016. Hill struck it big with a three-year, $48-million deal with the Dodgers before the 2017 season.
It might not have happened if not for the re-entry into affiliated baseball via Boston, where Hill had a couple of front-office connections dating to childhood and his first stint with the organization, 2010-12.
“You have to continue to persevere and understand that perseverance is probably something that could outlast talent,” Hill said. “And to be able to continue to move in the direction of something that you're passionate about and not giving up is something that I feel like I've been able to do.”
And now, appropriately, Hill is trying to get back to Boston — or, rather, help his Dodgers get back to Boston. Los Angeles needs to win two out of three games at Dodger Stadium this weekend to force the series to Fenway for an if-necessary Game 6 on Tuesday.
“We know how disappointing last year was,” Hill said, referencing the Dodgers’ Game 7 World Series loss to the Astros. “We know the situation that we're in right now, but we're not out of it. And I think the biggest thing is just keep bringing it. That's what we have to do here in L.A. and continue to keep fighting, don't hang our heads and give ourselves the best chance to go back to Boston.”