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Rich Hill’s Almost-Perfect Game Is a Worthy Chapter in His Improbable Career

The Dodgers starter lost a perfect game in the ninth inning and a no-hitter on a walk-off home run in the 10th

Los Angeles Dodgers v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

“That was one of the most memorable games of the season, maybe of my baseball-watching career,” Ben Lindbergh said at the top of Thursday’s episode of The Ringer MLB Show. He continued: “Yes, I'm referring of course to the fact that the Dodgers lost a game.”

But what a game the 89-36 Dodgers lost! Playing in Pittsburgh, starting pitcher Rich Hill threw eight perfect innings, one no-hit inning with a Logan Forsythe fielding error mixed in, and one last truncated inning when Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison hit a walk-off, extra-inning home run to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 win. As Michael Baumann said on the MLB Show, “We've got bunches and bunches of fun facts about this game,” and it was “something that, frankly, could've only happened to Rich Hill.”

Baumann and Lindbergh broke down Hill’s near-perfecto on the podcast before speaking with Baseball Prospectus’ Russell Carleton about the rise of multi-position players and non-traditional defensive alignments. Listen to the full episode here.

The transcript below has been edited and condensed.

Hill Inspired Memories of Previous All-Time Pitching Performances

Baumann: [It was the] first time a perfect game bid had ever been ended on an error in the ninth inning, and I went back and looked because I was thinking, “Didn't Jonathan Sánchez lose a perfect game in the ninth inning?” No, it turns out Juan Uribe allowed the only baserunner in that game earlier in the game, I think the eighth inning. But I went back and there have been, what, 23 perfect games in MLB history? I was thinking that it would've been really special if Jonathan Sánchez had pitched that perfect game. It has actually happened fewer times in baseball history that Jonathan Sánchez has started a game and not walked anybody than somebody has thrown a perfect game: eight career starts for Jonathan Sánchez with zero walks.

Lindbergh: I miss that man.

Baumann: He was wild.

Lindbergh: Not very effective.

The game also galvanized comparisons to Harvey Haddix, a Pirates southpaw who, in a game against the Milwaukee Braves in 1959, threw 12 perfect innings before losing in the 13th on an unfortunate sequence: error, sacrifice bunt, intentional walk to Hank Aaron, and walk-off double by Joe Adcock. (Adcock hit a would-be home run, but in the course of celebrating the win, he passed Aaron on the basepaths, so his dinger didn’t officially count as one.)

Lindbergh: As a reader named Matthew Indovina pointed out to me on Twitter, it was both a Maddux and a Haddix, because he ended up with fewer than 100 pitches and it was kind of a Harvey Haddix game—he lost after nine no-hit innings. But I blame the juiced ball for Josh Harrison's first-row home run.

Baumann: Eh, he got all of that.

Lindbergh: He got good wood on it, but I don't know that it would've gone out in another year.

It Was an Odd Game for the League-Leading Dodgers

Baumann: I love, first of all, that he pitched the 10th inning.

Lindbergh: Of all the improbable things, I think the fact that Rich Hill pitched into the 10th is up there, to have the Dodgers let him go that long—and he didn't go that long, really, because he threw 99 pitches, just fastballs and curveballs exclusively, so obviously he was extremely efficient. And we know that he has been removed from historic games in the past because his pitch count was too high and his blisters were heating up, so it is impressive that he even got the chance to do this.

Baumann: If Hill had retired a single batter in the 10th, he would've become only the [seventh] starting pitcher since the year 2000 [to do so].

Lindbergh: And a Dodger starter pitching into extra innings! Dodger starters don't pitch into the seventh inning, so that is pretty amazing.

Baumann: The Dodgers didn't score a run! There are 15 different ways that this was just absolutely bonkers. I thought once [second baseman Chase] Utley laid out for that line drive—this is absolute nonsense, but they say every great no-hitter, great perfect game, needs that one spectacular defensive play, and I thought that was it.

Lindbergh: There were a couple in this game. There was the Utley catch and there was the Adrián González catch of a pop-up, with his back looking more able than I would've imagined.

But “Odd” for Anyone Else Is Typical for Hill

Lindbergh: This is just the latest entry in the crazy late career of Rich Hill. I am ready for the Rich Hill book. I don't know whether it's an autobiography or a biography, but his story just has so many highs and so many lows, both personal and professional. He's had family tragedy, his career was completely run off the rails, he's returned to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. Even just a couple months ago it looked like maybe it was over, and the Dodgers had committed to him on a multiyear deal and then the blisters, and he wasn't pitching very well. And over the last month, or more probably at this point, he's been just peak Rich Hill. And this was just the latest example of it. He remains one of the most enjoyable pitchers to watch and also just one of the best stories in baseball. Crazy game, sort of sad, sort of heartwarming that he's even in the position to pitch a game like that in the first place.

Baumann: I'm sure he'll appreciate that more in the morning.

Lindbergh: Probably. He hid his depression well, if he was feeling it in the moment, both with the error that Logan Forsythe committed and then with the walk-off. He didn't really show any emotion on the mound, although I'm sure he was feeling it.