McAdam: Sox will miss Hill, not Dice-K


McAdam: Sox will miss Hill, not Dice-K

By SeanMcAdam

One pitcher grew up half a world away, the other just miles from Fenway Park.

One was the object of an unprecedented bidding war, the other signed for less than double the major-league minimum salary.

One threw a dizzying array of pitches, the other spent the past two seasons experimenting with various arm angles.

One is right-handed, the other lefty.

Yet, for all their differences, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Rich Hill are the same in ways they surely don't wish: both seem headed for season-ending -- and potentially career-threatening Tommy John surgery.

Dr. M. explains Tommy John surgery

And here's the irony: despite the fact that the Red Sox paid 103 million for Matsuzaka and just 700,000 for Hill, it's Hill whom they'll miss the most.

Matsuzaka may have attracted the most attention, arriving with great fanfare and a mythical pitch (gyro ball), and he may have won 33 games in his first two seasons with the Sox, 11 more than Hill has over parts of seven big-league seasons.

But in 2011, it was Hill who held much greater value to the Red Sox and whose absence will be far more difficult to replace.

No matter what they had invested in him, financially and otherwise, Matsuzaka remained an enigma, seemingly unable to win with any consistency. Since the start of 2009, in 44 starts -- roughly the equivalent of a season-and-a-third -- Matsuzaka was 16-15 with a 5.03 ERA.

This year, he was as unpredictable as ever. In back-to-back starts in April, he teased the Red Sox with one-hitters. But as dominant as he was in those two outings, his ERA for the season was 5.30 -- about a run higher than the American League average.

Money and reputation aside, Matsuzaka had devloved into a back-of-the-rotation starter -- and not a very durable one at that.

In the eight games that Matsuzaka started for them this season, the Red Sox were 4-4; with others starting, they are at least (nominally) over .500 at 26-22.

And though neither Tim Wakefield nor Alfredo Aceves are necessarily long-term solutions to the Red Sox rotation, they've consistently given the Sox a chance to win games. In seven starts combined, the pair have twice allowed five or more runs; in Matsuzaka's eight starts before his trip to the DL, he also allowed five or more runs twice.

For the time being, the Red Sox plan to use either Wakefield or Aceves in place of Matsuzaka. In time, they could call upon Felix Doubront (fresh off a DL stint of his own at Pawtucket) or perhaps even Kevin Millwood.

But they're not about to venture into the trade market to replace Matsuzaka, thanks to the prohibitive cost of obtaining pitching help and, frankly, because it shouldn't be difficult to match what Matsuzaka was giving them with their many internal candidates.

Hill, however, is another story.

Even after walking off the mound and out of the game Wednesday afternoon following a walk to Adam Dunn, Hill had not given up a run in eight appearances this season. In fact, dating back to his late-season callup last September, Hill was, improbably, unscored upon in his Red Sox career, throwing nothing but blanks over 15 appearances, covering 12 innings.

If quality starting pitching is difficult to find, it's downright bountiful when compared to effective left-handed relievers like Hill.

Consider that the Red Sox had a handful of lefty relievers in camp this spring, including Hill and journeyman Dennys Reyes.

Reyes made the Opening Day roster, then pitched so poorly that the Red Sox found a reason to place him on the DL before they even returned home from their season-opening road trip.

Hill, on the other hand, was showing signs of beginning to master his role. A starter earlier in his career, Hill transitioned to the bullpen after shoulder surgery in 2009.

This year, he held opposing lefty hitters to a single hit in 14 at-bats with seven strikeouts and just two walks. But Hill was also getting righties out, allowing just two hits in 12 at-bats (.167 BAA).

Had Hill remained healthy, he might have resulted in another option for the seventh or eighth innings -- beyond his usual duties as a situational left-hander.

The Sox don't have anyone like him in their system. Even in his first few seasons with the Sox, Hideki Okajima wasn't particularly effective against lefties, and the Sox thought so little of him two weeks ago that they designed him for assignment.

Doubront could conceivably help out in the short-run, but long-term his future is as a starter.

By their own admission, the Sox got lucky with Hill. He chose to opt-out of a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals organization last summer for the chance to pitch for his hometown team. As a free agent, non-tendered by the Sox last winter, he turned down offers from other interested clubs to accept a minor-league, make-good deal with the Sox. And after experimenting with a number of sidearm release points, he found one this spring that worked.

Now, he's gone for the remainder of this season and parts of next. And putting aside his modest salary and the little fanfare he attracted, his loss is far greater to the Red Sox than the internationally known pitcher with whom he's now linked, both felled by the same injury, different as can be but united in their fate.

Sean McAdam can be reached at Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.