A few minutes before 8 p.m. on Tuesday, in the fourth inning of a 7-6 defeat to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts walked to the mound at Chase Field. He had not needed to make this walk once during Rich Hill’s last outing, an overpowering but ultimately painful performance in Pittsburgh. Hill toiled by himself that night, unimpeded until the 10th inning.
Tuesday was different. There were no historical implications, no dalliances with perfection. There was only a slew of extra-base hits from the Diamondbacks, who taxed Hill for six runs in 32/3 innings. Six days after appearing untouchable, Hill looked vulnerable against a team the Dodgers could face in the National League division series.
“I fell way short of what I was supposed to do,” Hill said.
It will be up to Arizona to book that date in October. The Diamondbacks lead the NL wild-card race, and probably will need to defeat the Colorado Rockies in the wild-card game in order to qualify to face the Dodgers. Arizona presents a formidable challenge, including a lineup featuring sluggers like Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, J.D. Martinez and Jake Lamb. The group ambushed Hill for five runs in Tuesday’s first inning, and the Dodgers (91-39) could not recover, losing three in a row for the first time since June.
The lineup made the final score look respectable. Yasiel Puig and Chris Taylor homered early. Adrian Gonzalez provided an RBI double in the eighth. The offense mounted a final charge in the ninth, with Chase Utley leading off with a double and scoring on an infield single by Taylor, but Diamondbacks closer Fernando Rodney induced a groundout by Yasmani Grandal with a pair of runners aboard to end the night.
“That’s a tough team,” Taylor said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw them again down the road.”
The group could not climb out of the ditch dug by Hill. The outing delivered some unfortunate symmetry for the left-hander. After his seven innings of perfection in Miami last September, he took the mound five days later at Chase Field, where the Diamondbacks tagged him for four runs in 51/3 innings. Tuesday was worse.
The first inning featured more hardship than the entirety of Hill’s last outing. Last week in Pittsburgh, Hill threw nine innings of no-hit ball. Only his teammates could prevent him from recording a no-hitter, as the offense could not score. Hill took the loss after yielding a solo home run in the 10th.
On Tuesday, Hill gave up five runs before recording two outs. The flurry started with a leadoff single by outfielder David Peralta — Hill would not flirt, in any way, with perfection. Two batters later, a 90-mph fastball cut over the plate. Pollock lined it into the left-field seats.
“They got to him early,” Roberts said.
The two-run shot stung. So did the next hit Hill allowed. It was a line drive off the bat of Goldschmidt. The ball connected with Hill’s left hip. Hill scrambled to make a throw to first but stumbled into the grass. Roberts noticed Hill “favoring” the hip as the night continued.
One batter later, Martinez cracked a ground-rule double. There were two runners in scoring position, and Hill could not strand them. When he hung a first-pitch curveball, second baseman Brandon Drury doubled. Hill then left a fastball at the belt of Lamb, who contributed an RBI single to push Arizona’s lead to five.
The Dodgers had scored only five runs over the weekend, losing two of three to Milwaukee and dropping a series for the first time since the first week of June. On Tuesday they were without a pair of All-Stars: Corey Seager was resting a sore elbow (although he pinch-hit and grounded out in the ninth), while Cody Bellinger was playing a game in the rookie-level Arizona League as preparation for activation from the disabled list Wednesday.
Despite the absences, the Dodgers cut into the deficit. In the second at-bat of the second inning, Puig hammered a 92-mph fastball from Arizona starter Zack Godley. The solo shot smashed off the batter’s eye in center field.
An inning later, Hill sparked the offense. He is not a deft hitter, but he compensates for his lack of skill with a level of effort that borders on the comedic. He dropped a bunt down the third-base line. Lamb fielded it, but skipped a throw to first base. Hill received credit for a hit, which set the table for Taylor.
Godley fed Taylor a waist-high sinker. Taylor unloaded on the pitch for a two-run homer. Soon after, Justin Turner doubled and scored on a single by Grandal. The Dodgers had cut the lead to one. “It was a battle,” Roberts said. “We got put behind the 8-ball.”
Hill had one more wobble left in his night. He issued a leadoff walk to Lamb, who entered the game with a .146 batting average against left-handed pitchers like Hill, in the fourth. Up came Peralta with two outs. Another curveball from Hill came over the plate, on a tee for Peralta. He bashed an RBI triple off the wall in center to pad Arizona’s advantage. Hill’s night was over.
“Richie’s had a very good season for us,” Roberts said. “Today just wasn’t a good day for him.”