Rich Hill had not pitched a game for the Dodgers this season before Sunday, but the veteran left-hander has been around the team long enough to know that it would not be discouraged by a four-run second-inning deficit.
Neither would Hill, who recovered from a rocky start to give his pesky bat-wielding teammates a chance to come back for a 7-6 victory that completed a three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates in front of 52,875 in Dodger Stadium.
“For me it was an incredible team win — I think it defined the relentless approach we have,” Hill said. “We could have easily packed it in and said, ‘You know, we already won two from these guys, it’s Sunday, let’s get this over with and get on the road,’ but we buckled in and battled.
“The way the bats came together, the total approach by everybody to continue fighting, was great. I don’t know where this game is gonna sit with the rest of the season, but I feel as a team win, as a whole, it’s a pretty defining game.”
Max Muncy atoned for a second-inning error that led to four unearned runs with a score-tying, two-out single in the fifth inning and the go-ahead single in the seventh, and Cody Bellinger continued his record-setting rampage through the first month of the season with a home run, a run-scoring single and a sacrifice fly.
Julio Urias, making his second relief appearance, escaped a two-on, no-outs jam in the eighth inning, and Kenley Jansen struck out Gregory Polanco with runners on second and third for his 11th save.
“The season is so long, you’re gonna have those days [where you pack it in],” Muncy said. “Thankfully, the makeup of this team doesn’t allow that to happen.”
Hill, sidelined since mid-March because of a left-knee sprain, struck out 16 of 19 batters in his final rehabilitation start against minor leaguers in an extended spring-training game in Arizona on April 22.
Big league hitters, even on an offensively challenged team like the Pirates, were not as forgiving. Of the first 11 batters he faced, five got hits — two were home runs by Melky Cabrera — five crossed the plate and only one struck out. Hill needed 44 pitches to get the first six outs.
But something seemed to click after Cabrera’s second home run. Hill retired 13 consecutive batters from the end of the second inning through the sixth, striking out five, before giving way to Urias to start the seventh with the scored tied 5-5. Hill needed only 41 pitches to complete his final four innings.
“I didn’t change anything,” Hill said. “I just continued to keep executing and making pitches. I’ve always gotten better as outings go on.”
Cabrera put the Pirates up 1-0 with a home run in the first inning. Joc Pederson walked to open the bottom of the first, advanced to third base on Muncy’s single and scored on Bellinger’s sacrifice fly to make it 1-1.
Muncy, starting at third base, sailed a throw over Bellinger’s head at first on Elias Diaz’s grounder for a two-base error to open the second inning. Cole Tucker bunted for a single, Pablo Reyes hit a run-scoring single, pitcher Trevor Williams advanced two runners with a sacrifice bunt and Adam Frazier hit a run-scoring grounder.
Cabrera capped the four-run inning with a two-run home run to left field to make it 5-1. Bellinger shaved a run off the lead with a home run in the fourth, his 14th, tying him with Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich for the major league lead.
The Dodgers tied it with a three-run rally in the fifth. Enrique Hernandez led off with a single to left and Russell Martin singled to right. Both runners advanced on Hill’s sacrifice bunt.
Pederson struck out, but Corey Seager split the right-center-field gap with a two-run double to pull the Dodgers within 5-4. Muncy blooped a run-scoring single to right to make it 5-5.
The clutch hits were a reflection of an improved approach for the Dodgers, who hit .199 with runners in scoring position with two outs last season, tied with Baltimore for the worst in the majors, but are hitting .279 (34 for 122) this season, fifth-best in the majors.
“I think it’s just more of a clear head this year for everybody,” Muncy said. “One of the things [coaches] stress is to steady your approach. Just because they make a pitch or you swing at a bad pitch or foul something off, that doesn’t end your at-bat. Stay in your at-bat and don’t let anything get in the way of that.”
The Dodgers took a 7-5 lead in the seventh, a rally that began with a Chris Taylor walk and an error that allowed Pederson to reach. Seager popped out, but Muncy lined a run-scoring single to left-center field and Bellinger won a seven-pitch battled with left-hander Francisco Liriano, lining a run-scoring single to right-center field.
“It says a lot about the group,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “There’s just really no panic with the guys.”