The Dodgers’ latest victory — an 8-0 nailbiter-turned-rout Sunday at Dodger Stadium — was built on the backs of two players defying baseball’s recent demographic trend.
At a time when the value of experience across the sport has plunged, it was 39-year-old Rich Hill, the oldest pitcher in the majors who joked he should’ve opened the Dodgers’ alumni game Saturday with a three-fingered glove, and 36-year-old David Freese, a former World Series MVP content with a bench role in his 11th season for a club with championship aspirations, continuing their strong seasons and tag-teaming to complete the Dodgers’ three-game series sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies.
“We have a lot of young players,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “And coaches coach and teach but it’s sometimes more impactful — a lot of times more impactful — when you have veterans like David and Rich.”
Hill got the start on the mound and continued his latest run of success, holding the potent Phillies offense scoreless across seven innings. He didn’t allow a hit until the fifth. He fanned nine, walked three, and grunted with each of his season-high 103 pitches. Most importantly, he outlasted his counterpart Nick Pivetta, who entered the day sporting a 7.71 earned-run average but held the Dodgers without a run for six frames before his bullpen collapsed.
Freese didn’t start Sunday -- he doesn’t start most days -- but he left his imprint anyway. After entering the game in the fifth inning to replace first baseman Matt Beaty, who exited with a left hip injury, Freese broke a scoreless draw in the seventh with a solo home run. He cracked an RBI single in the eighth before stumbling his way around the bases for additional insurance in a seven-run eighth inning as the Dodgers (41-19) blew open a tight contest en route to their fifth consecutive victory.
“My body was not ready,” Freese joked. “Just got it ready and just got out there. Today ended up being a good day.”
“I got 180 feet in me and after that, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Freese said. “I had to do whatever it took. Dino kept waving me so I was swimming in midair.”
After Sunday’s performance, which included executing a couple of difficult plays at first base, Freese is batting .294 with a 1.000 on-base-plus-slugging-percentage and six home runs in 104 plate appearances. He excelled in his role as a platoon player when the Dodgers acquired him last September and has continued producing after taking a pay cut during the offseason to remain with the organization.
“Not to discredit any other spot I’ve been but I’m having a blast here and it’s not really about the 40, 41 wins,” said Freese, who starred during the St. Louis Cardinals’ World Series run in 2011. “Just love this group and I feel really comfortable here. They treat me really well.”
For a moment, it appeared as though Hill would not finish the seventh inning. Cesar Hernandez had just cracked a two-out double on his 99th pitch when manager Dave Roberts emerged from the dugout. Rarely does Roberts visit a pitcher — especially Hill — without taking the ball from him. But, after a brief conversation, Roberts returned to the dugout without summoning a reliever. Hill remained on the mound to figure his way out of the jam.
With the pitcher’s spot on deck, the Dodgers intentionally walked Maikel Franco to force Phillies manager Gabe Kapler to make a decision: have Nick Pivetta, who was through six scoreless innings, hit with the go-ahead run at second base or pinch-hit for the light-hitting pitcher who had struck out in his two at-bats without much resistance. Kapler elected to remove Pivetta and insert Phil Gosselin to pinch-hit.
Four pitches later, after blowing a fastball by Gosselin for strike three, Hill walked off the mound with a fist pump to conclude his fourth straight performance of at least six innings while allowing fewer than three runs. He’s given up three runs in 25 innings in those four outings, lowering his ERA to 2.25 this season.
“I wanted to get out of that inning,” Hill said, “and not let them score and give us a chance to win.”
On the other side, replacing Pivetta -- and turning to their faulty bullpen — immediately proved fatal for the Phillies. Freese clubbed a two-out home run the other way, over the right-field wall, off right-hander Vince Velasquez for the game’s first run in the seventh inning. A spirited Freese bellowed as he trotted around the bases. He flexed his right biceps as he rounded third -- without a problem -- peering into the Dodgers’ exuberant dugout. The deadlock was broken and a drubbing was soon in order.
“I’m 36,” Freese said. “I’m about done. I’m just here for the ride.”