Dodgers’ Rich Hill Owns a Gem All the More Rare for Its Flaw

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Some pitchers have thrown no-hitters, and a lucky few have authored perfect games. But you have to dig deep into baseball history to find an exquisitely agonizing performance to rival Rich Hill’s on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Hill, a left-hander for the Los Angeles Dodgers, lost a perfect game on an error in the ninth inning of a scoreless game. He went back to the mound for the 10th, after the Dodgers again failed to score, and lost the no-hitter and the game, 1-0, on a leadoff home run by the Pirates’ Josh Harrison.

Hill became the first pitcher in major league history to lose a no-hitter on a game-ending homer in extra innings — technically. Another no-hit bid, also involving the Pirates, ended when a ball cleared the outfield fence in the 13th inning, but the play was ultimately scored a double.

That was the famous game in 1959 when the Pirates’ Harvey Haddix twirled 12 perfect innings in a scoreless game against the Braves in Milwaukee. Haddix, like Hill, lost his perfect game on an error by the third baseman. In Haddix’s case, third baseman Don Hoak made a throwing error on Felix Mantilla’s leadoff grounder in the 13th. In Hill’s, Logan Forsythe botched a hard grounder by Jordy Mercer to lead off the ninth.

Hill recovered to survive the ninth inning on a sacrifice bunt and two ground outs, before Harrison struck in the 10th, driving Hill’s 99th pitch — an 88-mile-per-hour fastball down the middle — just over the fence down the left field line. Haddix could not survive Hoak’s misplay.

After Mantilla reached base, Haddix faced two future Hall of Famers: Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron. But they were not the problem. Mathews sacrificed Mantilla to second, and Haddix walked Aaron intentionally. Then came Joe Adcock, another power hitter, who drove a pitch over the wall in right-center to win the game for Lew Burdette.

All that remained was the bookkeeping — and that got complicated. Aaron did not realize Adcock’s drive had cleared the fence, so he cut back to the Braves’ dugout when Mantilla scored, thinking the game was over. Adcock then passed Aaron on the bases, and both were declared out.

The umpire Frank Dascoli declared it a 2-0 Braves victory, but Warren Giles, the National League president, ruled that the score should be 1-0, and Adcock credited with a one-run double.

In any case, it was a bitter way for Haddix’s night to end, as it was for Hill on Wednesday. Last September in Miami, Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts had removed Hill after seven perfect innings for fear of irritating a blister. With another chance on Wednesday, Hill nearly came through, and even had the requisite defensive highlight behind him: a diving catch by second baseman Chase Utley to snare a liner by Josh Bell in the eighth.

No pitcher has thrown a perfect game since Seattle’s Felix Hernandez fired the 23rd in major league history in August 2012. Since then, Yu Darvish, Yusmeiro Petit and Max Scherzer have lost their attempts with two outs in the ninth. The Forsythe error, on a ball that bounced off his leg as he shifted to his right, came on Hill’s first pitch in the bottom of the ninth. After Pirates reliever Juan Nicasio — who followed Trevor Williams’s eight strong innings — retired the Dodgers in order in the 10th, Harrison’s homer tagged Hill with a loss.

Before Hill, the last pitcher to take a no-hitter into extra innings was Pedro Martinez for the Montreal Expos on June 3, 1995, in San Diego. Martinez tossed nine perfect innings against the Padres, and the Expos finally scored for him in the top of the 10th. But Bip Roberts led off the bottom of the inning with a double, ending the perfect game and Martinez’s night.

Martinez never threw a no-hitter, but at least he won that game.

The last pitcher before Hill to throw nine no-hit innings and lose was Mark Gardner of the Expos on June 26, 1991, at Dodger Stadium. With the score 0-0 in the 10th, Gardner allowed singles to Lenny Harris and Eddie Murray before Darryl Strawberry singled off reliever Jeff Fassero to win the game for Los Angeles.

Two days later, one of Gardner’s teammates did complete his bid for history, when Dennis Martinez threw a perfect game against the Dodgers. And the year after Haddix’s excruciating loss, he was credited with the victory of every pitcher’s dreams: in Game 7 of the World Series, in relief for the Pirates against the Yankees.

The Dodgers, who are 89-36, are clearly headed for the postseason again. Hill did his best in last fall’s National League Championship Series, spinning six scoreless innings to beat the Chicago Cubs in Game 3 and give the Dodgers a two-games-to-one lead. He was lined up to pitch Game 7, but the Dodgers lost in six.

Glory always seems just out of Hill’s grasp, but he was not feeling sorry for himself on Wednesday. He did not do his job against Harrison, and paid for the mistake.

“It falls on me, on this one,” Hill told reporters, according to The Los Angeles Times. “One bad pitch.”