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The 19 greatest starts in Cubs history, No. 12: Rich Hill, September 16, 2006

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He’s still going, 14 years later.

Rich Hill during his gem, September 16, 2006
Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The 2006 season was not kind to the Cubs, though on May 1 they were 14-10.

Following that, they went on a 4-21 (!) skid and overall were 16-40 in May and June combined, among the worst two-month stretches in franchise history. Their 15-41 record from May 2 through July 1 tied for the second-worst 56-game stretch in franchise history, exceeded only by the brutally bad 1999 Cubs.

And beginning in mid-August they had another horrific run, 7-21, entering a Saturday afternoon date with the Reds at Wrigley Field in mid-September.

Rich Hill had shown great potential in the Cubs’ farm system, and in 15 starts at Triple-A Iowa in 2006 had a 7-1 record, 1.80 ERA and 0.830 WHIP. He’d had some success in the big leagues that year, too, but entering this game he had a 4.60 ERA and that 12-6 curveball was getting hit pretty hard — 12 home runs in 71⅓ innings.

The Reds weren’t a great team in 2006, hanging around .500, though they did have some sluggers in Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Dunn.

And Hill just shut them down almost completely that day, allowing two hits: a third-inning double by Brandon Phillips and a sixth-inning single by the charmingly-named Norris Hopper. Hill walked one and struck out 10 in a 4-0 complete-game shutout win, one of the few bright spots in a dismal 96-loss season.

Hill had a solid year in 2007 with a 3.92 ERA and 1.195 WHIP. That was good for 3.4 bWAR and at age 27, it looked like he’d be a mainstay in the Cubs rotation for years to come.

But in 2008, Hill began the season horrendously — in five starts he walked 18 in 19⅔ innings. Turned out he was injured. And injured, and injured, and injured. From the Cubs he went on an odyssey through these organizations: Orioles, Cardinals, Red Sox, Indians, Red Sox again, Angels, Yankees, Nationals, and finally the Red Sox again in 2015, where he made four outstanding starts at the end of the season (1.55 ERA, five walks and 36 strikeouts in 29 innings). Before that, though, that odyssey included 12 different stints on the disabled/injured list. The four great outings got the Athletics to take a chance on him in 2016, and later that year he was traded to the Dodgers. From 2016-19 he went 39-19 in 82 starts with a 3.00 ERA, 1.081 WHIP and 517 strikeouts in 437⅓ innings.

He’s signed with the Twins for 2020, if we ever have a season, and there aren’t a lot of miles on his arm even at age 40. If not for the injuries he might have had a career with several All-Star appearances; the curveball was that good.

And that September 2006 start ranks 12th on this all-time list of great Cubs starts. The photo at the top is from that afternoon. Sadly, no video survives from that day.

One final note: Check out who the catcher was for the Reds against the Cubs that Saturday at Wrigley Field.