LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Rich Hill never strayed from his mindset of pitching in the moment, even when he was far from the major leagues playing independent ball with the Long Island Ducks.
Convinced there would be another opportunity to get back to the big leagues, he focused on executing pitches without worrying about his current circumstances.
Fourteen months later, Hill allowed two hits over six innings to beat Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta and the Chicago Cubs 6-0 Tuesday, giving the Los Angeles Dodgers a 2-1 NL Championship Series lead.
“It’s the biggest game of my career,” Hill said. “It’s just putting in the work, putting in the time, having a routine, persevere, all those things that you can say to sum up some kind of endurance or resiliency. For me, that’s all I’ve ever known is just work.”
Rookie Corey Seager had three hits, including a go-ahead single in the third, and Yasmani Grandal hit a two-run homer in the fourth.
After winning a big league-high 103 games during the regular season and sparking belief they could win the World Series for the first time since 1908, the Cubs have been shut out in consecutive games for the first time since May 2014, managing just six hits — five of them singles. Their 18 straight scoreless innings mark the longest post-season drought in franchise history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“More than anything, I think we need to get a couple runs and hits and runs early to try to get that kind of feeling back,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, “because, obviously, when you’re not scoring any runs, it makes it even more difficult in the dugout.”
Hill, who made two starts in the independent Atlantic League in August 2015 before signing a minor league deal with Boston , struck out six and walked two. Joe Blanton, Grant Dayton and Kenley Jansen finished. Playing their 200th post-season game, the Dodgers posted consecutive shutouts for the first time.
Julio Urias starts Game 4 for the Dodgers on Wednesday and at 20 years, 68 days will become the youngest starting pitcher in post-season history. John Lackey starts for the Cubs.
“He’s not scared of the moment,” Seager said of Urias. “He’s not scared of anything.”
Hill was acquired from Oakland along with Josh Reddick at the Aug. 1 trade deadline. The 36-year-old left-hander struggled with a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand that landed him on the disabled list from mid-July to late August. The blister still bothered him in the final weeks of the regular season, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled him after seven perfect innings against Miami on Sept. 10, saying the team had to keep its focus on bigger goals in October.
Hill was strong from the start against one of his former teams, retiring the side to open the game and later eight in a row. He’s given up one run in 23 innings over four home starts for the Dodgers, lowering his ERA to 0.39.
“When he’s got that attitude out there, you can tell,” Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. “That’s when you know he’s rolling, that his pitches are working, and he’s doing what he wants to do out there.”
Seager’s go-ahead single ended an 0-for-15 slide with runners in scoring position in post-season play.
Grandal was 0 for 5 with three strikeouts against Arrieta in his career before he launched a 3-2 pitch into the right-field pavilion in the fourth for a 3-0 lead. Grandal drove in Reddick, who singled and stole second and third.
“He’s been so good for the last couple years just because he doesn’t give in,” Grandal said of Arrieta. “He still made a really good pitch down in the zone. I was just lucky to put a swing on it and hit it out.”
Justin Turner homered on the first pitch leading off the sixth to chase Arrieta, who gave up four runs and six hits in five innings. He dominated the Dodgers in his previous two starts against them, including a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 30, 2015. Los Angeles had gone 2 for 51 against him in two games.
“It’s hard to go out there and pitch when your team is not scoring, so you try to be perfect. You can’t make any mistakes. If you give up one run, that can be it,” Cubs catcher Miguel Montero said. “He had one of his best stuff all year, to be honest.”
Joc Pederson doubled in a run in the eighth and Grandal hit a run-scoring groundout .
Maddon moved struggling Anthony Rizzo from third to the cleanup spot, and his broken-bat infield hit in the ninth made him 2 for 26 in the post-season. Addison Russell, dropped from fifth to seventh, is 1 for 24. Jason Heyward struck out as a pinch hitter and is 2 for 19.
Chicago’s 3-4-5 hitters went 1 for 11 in the game and are 2 for 32 in the series without an RBI.
Dexter Fowler’s two-out double in the eighth provided the Cubs’ first extra-base hit since their 8-4 win in the opener.
“There’s no doubt here,” third baseman Kris Bryant said. “We certainly have all the belief in the world. It’s a powerful thing when you believe.”
With a win Wednesday, the Dodgers could try to finish the series at home.
“These guys won 100-some games. They’ve got the talent, so you can’t think ahead,” Grandal said. “If you think ahead, that’s when bad things happen.”
Four of Chicago’s eight shutouts this year have been against the Dodgers.
Roberts hasn’t ruled out turning to Clayton Kershaw to pitch on three days’ rest in Game 5 on Thursday.
Los Angeles has announced rookie Kenta Maeda as its starter. He’s given up seven earned runs in a combined seven innings of his two post-season starts.
In last week’s five-game Division Series against Washington, Kershaw pitched in all three wins. He started Game 1 and Game 4, on three days’ rest and got his first big league save in Game 5.
“The series circumstances will kind of dictate what decision we make,” Roberts said Tuesday. “Clayton feels good after Game 2. He’s prepared for anything that we have for him. He’s shown the ability to adjust his routine or regimen for whatever is best for our club.”
Lackey is 8-5 with a 3.22 ERA in 24 post-season appearances. Urias will be the third consecutive left-hander to start for the Dodgers. He earned the victory over Washington in Game 5 of the NLDS with two scoreless innings.
© Copyright Times Colonist