I missed Rich Hill’s latest gem — a complete game shutout over the Orioles at Fenway Park, with 10 more strikeouts, just one walk and an insane amount of goodwill pushing him. He’s a hometown guy, he’s been to hell and back personally, and professionally he’s making an unthinkable run through September as part of the patchwork Red Sox rotation.
I missed it because I went to a fancy dinner with my girlfriend after work. I got to have a nice drink and a nice meal on one of the first truly crisp fall days in New England. I wore a sweater and still felt a little chilly when I was outside.
This is part of the gearing down process, adapting from sweating in every possible situation to settling in to where the climate suits my clothes. Long sleeves come out of the woodwork, jackets get dusted off, I start paying closer attention to the Bruins and Celtics as they gear up for their campaigns.
There are exceptions, of course. In just the recent past, the Red Sox have carried on well into the cold — 2003, ’04, ’05, ’07, ’08, ’09 and ’13 all featured at least appearances in the playoffs and three times, absolute glory. It turns the entire enterprise around and suddenly wearing a hoodie at a baseball game isn’t just an April exercise.
And I haven’t — and won’t — tuned out entirely, either. The Cubs and Pirates run towards the Cardinals in the National League Central has been gripping, along with the Blue Jays making the playoffs for the first time since I was in sixth grade or the Rangers coming out of nowhere to upend their sudden rivals in Houston. There’s always plenty of good baseball to watch. As long as there are games, there will be something to watch.
But when the Red Sox are winding down the summer, even when they’re playing as inspired as they have for the past six weeks, its easy to let the season slip away too quickly. I watched Hill’s first two gems, and in a better year, I would have been revved up and maybe even have bought tickets for Friday night’s game. Thirty strikeouts in 23 innings with just two walks, even without his backstory of winding through arm injuries, independent leagues and personal tragedy, would be reason enough to tune in.
Of course, in a better season, Hill may never have gotten this opportunity to pitch in the first place. He would’ve been sent home with most in the minor league system when their schedule ended in early September, likely happy to have played a little more baseball and padded the resume, looking towards 2016.
In a different year, I would have scrawled out 25 different playoff rosters by now. I would be stressing out as to who would be in the initial three-man rotation and, if they advanced, who would be lined up for that Game 4 start in the ALCS. And, knowing some of my past habits, I might have missed that dinner, and that solid rye drink and the tingling night air.
★ ★ ★
A few weeks ago, there was a random minor league game on NESN, with the Pawtucket Red Sox in Buffalo. On the mound was Hill, recently picked up from the Long Island Ducks, no longer spinning the ball sidearm and seemingly cruising through the Bisons’ lineup. I had no idea he was back in the system until that point, and just started hoping that maybe, before the schedule was up, he might earn another spot in the bullpen.
But it was still hot then. It was a Thursday night with the temperatures firmly in the 80s and the humidity still choking every T station upon entry. I was still keeping extra shirts at the office in case I turned into a perspiring mess. It was bright well after 7 p.m. and the end still seemed just so far away.
I took a sip of a beer and, at the time, didn’t think of much else. There wasn’t much else to do, but there was a baseball game on. I’m at once thankful and disappointed I couldn’t see too far past that moment.