One in 100: Hill caps Jays' comeback
Second baseman homers, reaches RBI milestone
TORONTO -- Aaron Hill tried to turn away, but there was little the Blue Jays' second baseman could do to avoid the 97-mph fastball that was headed his way in the eighth inning on Tuesday night. The errant pitch from Danys Baez sailed high and inside on Hill, bending frighteningly close to his head.
The baseball struck Hill high on his left shoulder, sending him tumbling to the ground during the Blue Jays' 6-5, 11-inning victory over the Orioles. For a moment, a hush fell over Rogers Centre as everyone waited for the second baseman to get back on his feet.
That included Baez.
"I lost the grip," Baez said. "I was scrambling a little bit when the ball left my hand. I was kind of afraid to hit Hill with that ball, especially in the face or the head or something like that. It just really affected me a little bit at that moment. You don't want to hit anybody, especially him. He's a really professional player."
It was an eerie reminder of what Hill went through last season, when an on-field collision with then-Jays shortstop David Eckstein at the end of May resulted in a serious concussion, ending the second baseman's season. This time around, Hill quickly shifted to his feet and headed to first base, shaking off the close call.
Then, in the 11th inning, Hill showed just how far he has come since that fateful day last year.
After Jose Bautista drew a leadoff walk, Hill sent a pitch from Baltimore's Dennis Sarfate bouncing into the right-center-field gap for a game-winning double, setting off a celebration that ended with Vernon Wells emptying a Gatorade cooler on him.
"I knew I was going to wear it," Hill said with a smile.
Hill's run-scoring double broke a 5-5 tie and brought a satisfying end to a contest that included a pair of home runs from Edwin Encarnacion. It also gave Hill 100 RBIs in this comeback season of his. The second baseman drove in No. 99 with his team-leading 33rd home run in the third inning.
"Nothing like a game-winning RBI to get your 100th," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "That's great for him. He's a kid that plays hard every day for you."
For Hill, the milestone itself did not mean much in the grand scheme of things. He was more thrilled about being given a chance to come through with the decisive hit after striking out with the bases loaded two innings earlier. That whiff came after Bautista was hit by a pitch to bring in the game-tying run in the ninth.
"I'll tell you what, I'll take any one of them," Hill said. "It's something that you're not really trying to get to, but it's one of those things that's in the back of your head. It's nice to get it over with, so you can just play. It wasn't that big of a deal for me. It was just one more, but now everyone will stop talking about it."
That does not mean Hill has not taken the time to appreciate what he accomplished. As the majority of his teammates stormed the field after his double, Lyle Overbay headed to the outfield to retrieve the baseball. Hill can put it alongside the ball he kept after launching his 30th homer of the year earlier this season.
"That was nice," said Hill, referring to Overbay's gesture.
Hill was hardly the lone hero in the latest win for the Jays (68-83), though.
After Hill's long ball off Orioles lefty Mark Hendrickson in the third, Encarnacion followed with a shot of his own to knot the score at 2. Encarnacion, who was acquired from the Reds on July 31 in the trade that sent third baseman Scott Rolen to Cincinnati, added a two-run homer after Hill was hit by the pitch from Baez in the eighth.
"Let's hope he keeps swinging like that for the next year or two," Gaston said.
Left-hander Brian Tallet also turned in an admirable performance for the Blue Jays. After leaving with a right foot injury on Wednesday, Tallet took the mound against the Orioles (60-91) and lasted 6 1/3 frames, giving up five runs on 11 hits. Following his exit, Toronto's bullpen blanked Baltimore the rest of the way.
"We didn't know if he was going to be able to pitch at all," Gaston said. "We were trying to search around, [thinking] 'Who are we going to pitch?' I take my hat off to him. He went out there and gave us what he had. I'm pretty sure he probably wasn't 100 percent."
Hill also might be a little sore after the pitch he took off his arm. Not that he's going to complain in light of the game's end result and the milestone he achieved.
"Walk-offs are great," Hill said. "That's a great part of baseball. It's fun seeing everybody running out of the dugout coming to get you. That's what you work for. Any time you help your team get on top, it's fun. It's a great time."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.