PITTSBURGH -- Rich Hill treated the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 99-pitch clinic Wednesday night. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say he subjected them to it. Hill overwhelmed Pittsburgh hitters with his 90 mph fastball, alternately froze and made them wave at his curveball, and flummoxed them for nine innings in the most Tom Browning- and Mark Buehrle-esque of ways.
The outing was a real treat for connoisseurs of pitching craftsmanship, and what remained of the announced crowd of 19,859 at PNC Park had to feel for Hill when pitch No. 99 cast a blot over the proceedings. He caught too much of the plate with an 88 mph fastball in the bottom of the 10th inning, and Josh Harrison drove it over the outstretched glove of Curtis Granderson and beyond the left-field fence to give the Pirates the 1-0 victory over Hill and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
With that single misplaced pitch, Hill lost his bid for a no-hitter. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, he also became the first pitcher since Lefty Leifield of the 1906 Pirates to lose a decision despite throwing at least nine innings with one or fewer hits and no walks allowed.
It's natural to assume that the gut-wrenching and sudden nature of the defeat would prompt Hill to curl up in a ball next to his locker stall. But when the clubhouse door swung open and reporters and cameras gravitated to his spot, there was Hill, standing tall with an ice pack on his shoulder and dissecting the night's events with clinical detachment.
He threw his support behind teammate Logan Forsythe, whose ninth-inning error ended his perfect-game bid. He raved about Chase Utley's acrobatic diving catch in the eighth inning and said the image is "burned in [his] head now." He talked about the mechanical adjustments that he made with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt in Detroit, and took heart in the way they carried over to his Pittsburgh outing. And he didn't waste a moment lamenting the offensive brownout that forced him to go out for the 10th inning after he had thrown 95 pitches' worth of no-hit ball through nine.
Most people incur bigger emotional scars in a long day at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
"Right now, I'm just looking forward to tomorrow," Hill said. "I know it sounds a little boring, but that's it. I'm looking forward to tomorrow, getting in the gym and getting ready for the next outing. We have a lot of great things going on here. Tomorrow is a big game. We have to take the series and get back home."
Hill's knack for navigating baseball's ups and downs is a byproduct of all the obstacles he has overcome in his career. From the day he signed with the Chicago Cubs as a fourth-round pick out of the University of Michigan in 2002, his baseball life has been a patchwork quilt of injuries and constant change. He has pitched for eight teams in the majors, and five of those stops -- with the Angels, Indians, Yankees, Orioles and Athletics -- were for one-year cameos. Hill also pitched briefly with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League in 2015 before grinding his way back to the majors.
Three years ago, life taught him that the word "heartbreaking" can seem awfully trite when viewed in the context of a baseball game. His infant son, Brooks, died of multiple medical issues in 2014, and Hill embraced a tunnel vision and sense of perspective to help get him through each day, nevermind each season.
When the Dodgers signed Hill to a three-year, $48 million contract last December, his voice cracked with emotion at the MLB winter meetings. He's 37 years old and there were a lot of days when he never could have fathomed hitting a jackpot of that magnitude.
Atop the pitcher's mound, Hill is a walking endorsement for the concept of velocity-is-overrated. His average fastball of 89 mph ranks among the pokiest in the game, but he throws it with conviction and induces more than his share of late swings.
"I think Richie throws the hardest 90 I've ever seen," said Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes. "Hitters seem to have trouble with it sometimes. He'll throw a pitch and I'll look at the radar gun and it will surprise me, because it looks like it was in the mid-90s."
While Hill was mowing down the Pirates, a lot of observers thought back to the night of Sept. 10, 2016, when he threw no-hit ball against the Miami Marlins for 89 pitches and seven innings but never got to seal the deal. He was plagued by blister issues at the time, and Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts pulled him rather than allow something small to morph into something much bigger. In the immediate aftermath of that decision, Roberts pronounced himself "sick to my stomach."
Hill's masterpiece against Pittsburgh provided a rare opportunity for a do-over, and Roberts had nothing to lament. He sent Hill out for the 10th inning and might have sent him out for the 11th if it had come to that. But Harrison brought an end to what-if scenarios with that dramatic swing on pitch No. 99.
"I wasn't looking to make history ... I just wanted to go home," Harrison told reporters in an exuberant Pittsburgh clubhouse.
As the ball cleared the fence, Hill walked off the field and straight down the dugout steps to the clubhouse. After a good night's sleep, he planned to get right back at it for the best team in the game. The Dodgers fell to 89-36 with Wednesday's loss, so they haven't had too many down days at the office this summer.
"I try to keep everything as simple as possible and don't think of it as bigger than it is," Hill said. "We lost a ballgame. We have something bigger than any individual going on here. We're in it for the delayed gratification, not the instant gratification."
Hill didn't quite seal the deal against the Pirates in his second chance at a no-no, but he did himself and his organization proud with his pitching and his professionalism. He just might have a few more surprises in store between now and the end of October.