Twenty-four hours before Friday’s first pitch of the National League division series, there was a team meeting around the Dodger Stadium mound. All the Dodgers wore official gear, except for Clayton Kershaw, who stood in the back in baggy basketball shorts and a T-shirt.
After manager Dave Roberts spoke, he turned over the floor to left-hander Rich Hill, at 37 the second-oldest active Dodger. Typical of Hill, he implored his teammates to exert every bit of energy they had within them.
“Go out there and bring that intensity, bring the passion, bring that aggressive attitude,” Hill said he told the Dodgers. “So when you look back years from now, we're going to not look at it in regret, but look at it as, ‘I did everything that I could to succeed.’
“Again, whether we look back at the end of the day and we can call ourselves world champions or we go home knowing that you did everything that you could as an individual to succeed, that's really it.”
Hill has employed that ethos to great success over the last two years. Languishing in independent ball during the summer of 2015, he resolved to commit himself more fully to his craft. Since he resurfaced with the Boston Red Sox that September, he owns a 2.65 earned-run average over 49 starts.
He did so by breaking with tradition and throwing more of his steep curveballs than anyone in baseball. And, late this season, as opponents caught up to him, he reversed course and pumped up more fastballs.
The pitcher opposite Hill in Saturday’s Game 2 at Dodger Stadium has done the opposite. Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Robbie Ray has reintroduced a curveball into his regular repertoire, complementing his 95-mph fastball and his strikeout slider.
“It’s basically just resurrecting a pitch that was there,” Ray said.
He scrapped the curveball several years ago in the minor leagues, thinking the slider was sufficient. His 4.90 ERA last season proved him wrong. Wielding the curve and the slider, he lowered that ERA by two runs in 2017.
Arizona’s Game 1 starter, Taijuan Walker, came away from watching Wednesday’s wild-card game a “little tired.” He lasted one inning Friday night. Ray, who made a 34-pitch relief appearance in the wild-card game, said the outing provided him an understanding of what to expect on Saturday.
“I felt like I handled it pretty well,” he said. “I was able to control my emotions. But I feel like a start is a little bit different, knowing that you're coming into the game and setting the tone for the whole game. But I do feel like getting into that game gave me a little bit of a taste of it.”
Ten years ago Friday, Hill earned his first taste of the postseason, a failed three-inning start that ended the Chicago Cubs’ season. Back then, he said, he was more results oriented. His evaluation of his performance depended on how much success he found.
Now, he said, he rates himself on his effort, and he ensures he spares no expense.
“There are no set rules,” Hill said. “When you’re out there and you’re playing, you improvise and you use that creativity to your advantage.”
On Friday night, he planned to immerse himself in Clayton Kershaw’s intensity and, soon, exude it himself.
“You're going out there and you're putting yourself in a position to fail. But in doing that, you're giving it everything you can to succeed,” Hill said of Kershaw. “So, when you see guys going out there and whether it's a live performance of any kind — theater, music, baseball, whatever, a professional sport — you appreciate that genuine passion that they have. That's what Clayton brings.”
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura