When Justin Turner and Rich Hill take the field tonight for Game 2 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium, not many people at the game will remember that they played together — albeit quite briefly — in Baltimore in 2009.
Frankly, I barely remember that, and only remember Turner in any detail because he and more highly touted infield prospect Blake Davis were both Southern California natives from my alma mater — Cal State Fullerton.
Obviously, Turner was more clean-cut at the time — you had to be to play for the Orioles then — but he wasn’t considered a major prospect and would play just 17 major league games in 2009 and 2010 before being claimed off waivers by the New York Mets early in the 2010 season.
He was a nice kid who believed in himself and earned significant playing time over four seasons in New York before growing into a legitimate star over four seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Couldn’t be happier for him, but no one suspected that he would be the guy hitting game-winning home runs in the playoffs and World Series.
The Orioles were terrible back then, but they had Brian Roberts and Melvin Mora in the infield and several middle infield prospects. Don’t think anyone batted an eye when Turner was waived out of the organization.
Now he’s a big star who spawns Bigfoot rumors every time he goes hunting.
Hill was the more interesting story at the time. He showed up as a command-challenged left-hander who had one good year as a starter with the Chicago Cubs before losing the strike zone.
He was so scatter-armed that he threw away his very first throw to first base during pitchers’ fielding practice on the first day of spring training in 2009 at the old Fort Lauderdale facility. He would go on to pitch 14 games (13 starts) for the Orioles, post a 7.80 ERA and walk almost as many batters (40) as he struck out (46) in 57 2/3 innings.
In other words, he would have fit right into this year’s starting rotation.
If I recall, he wasn’t my biggest fan, because I was the opinion guy and it was hard to sugarcoat his performance.
That was the year I tore my Achilles tendon playing basketball on the Fourth of July and missed a few weeks of the season. Hill asked my colleague, Jeff Zrebiec, why I wasn’t around and Zrebiec recalls telling him that I had suffered a severe leg injury.
“Serves him right,” Hill said, and he wasn’t joking.
But he was a left-hander with a terrific curveball, so he kept getting chance after chance to remain in the major leagues. The Orioles let him go after the 2009 season and he was subsequently signed and let go by the St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels, New York Yankees and Washington Nationals before gaining some traction with the Oakland A’s in 2016.
Over that period, he remade himself as a reliever and had some success, particularly in Boston, where he did well in four starts in 2015 before emerging as a star-quality starter with the A’s and landing with the Dodgers for the playoff stretch last year.
You know the rest. His timing was perfect and he became eligible for free agency this past offseason, signing a three-year, $48 million deal the stay with the Dodgers through 2019.
Only in America … and only if you’re left-handed.