LOS ANGELES -- Rich Hill sulked his way back to the Dodgers' dugout after a 30-pitch second inning and slammed his glove down on the bench. It was shaping into a short night for the 36-year-old southpaw.
Yet there he was on the mound in the sixth, pumping curveball after curveball into the strike zone, then pumping his fist after striking out Anthony Rizzo to cap a sensational scoreless outing in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. A 6-0 Dodgers win gave Hill & Co. a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"It wasn't his best stuff," said manager Dave Roberts. "I think that curveball command wasn't as I know he would like it, but that just shows that [when] he goes out there and competes, he still has a very good chance to get guys out. I think that his preparedness, his guts, you know, really kept those guys at bay."
As usual, Hill's curveball was the pitch primarily responsible. Hill had the highest curveball rate on record during the regular season (data has been collected since 2007), throwing that pitch 47 percent of the time. He also had the second-highest spin rate on curves this year of any pitcher who threw that pitch at least 500 times. Hill's 2,833 RPMs trailed only the Nationals' Gio Gonzalez (2,843 RPMs). Spin rate on a curveball is a good thing, as it creates downward movement.
Meanwhile, the Cubs had the lowest average exit velocity against curveballs in 2016 at 84.3 mph, according to Statcast™.
So it should not have been a surprise on Tuesday that Hill threw his curve even more than usual -- a whopping 55 percent of his 93 pitches. And as the game progressed, the pitch became increasingly effective. He threw nine curveballs with a spin rate north of 3,000 RPMs, two shy of his season high.
"I think it's one of those things that if you have a pitch that's better than your other pitches, you throw it more, and percentage-wise it should work out in your favor," Hill said. "If you can execute it, then we talk about spin rate, we talk about all these things. The higher the spin rate, the more break, the more depth on the breaking ball, the more vertical drop that you can have, the better it is for the pitcher.
"We stuck with it tonight, and [catcher Yasmani Grandal] continued to call a great game back there and stuck with the breaking balls and fastballs in."
But it shouldn't be a surprise that Hill was effective in his Game 3 start. Since September 2015, the 36-year-old has recorded a 2.01 ERA (minimum 100 innings) during the regular season, which is second only to fellow teammate Clayton Kershaw's 1.66 ERA during that time span. Hill also nearly pitched a perfect game this season, going seven innings against the Marlins before he was pulled because of his blister issues at that time.
To get deep into the game, the Dodgers' battery had to navigate a frustrating second inning. Grandal made a series of mound visits during that frame as pitcher and catcher struggled to get on the same page. Hill walked a pair of batters before recording his second out, and both runners advanced on a passed ball. In the dugout, Roberts considered calling his relief corps to life.
Both of those outs were induced with -- you guessed it -- a curveball.
"That's his go-to pitch. Everybody knows it. Everybody knows what's coming," Grandal said. "It's like Kenley [Jansen], you know? He's throwing a cutter. If you can hit it, you hit it. So we're going to live and die with his best pitch."
Hill scattered two hits and two walks in his six scoreless innings, one inning shy of his total from his two starts against the Nationals in the NL Division Series. His final batter was Rizzo with a runner aboard and the Dodgers leading in the sixth, 3-0. Hill fell behind in the count, 3-1, then got a called strike with a curveball and whiffed Rizzo swinging through an 86.7-mph fastball.
Hill pumped his fist and yelled as he left the mound.
"When he's getting fired up, we love it," third baseman Justin Turner said. "That's what makes him such a great pitcher."
Adam McCalvy has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.