PHOENIX — Aaron Hill glanced at the game jersey hanging in his locker Tuesday night with a gleam in his eye.
“These are white,” he said.
“But they are not made to be white.”
Welcome to Hill’s world.
Where grit is cherished, and the game is revered … and, this season, extra-base hits have followed like obedient children.
Hill added a double and a walk-off home run to what by several measures is the best season of his career. His three-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning gave the D-backs a 5-3 victory and assured them a second consecutive .500-or-better season, their fourth in the last six years. They are 81-80 entering Wednesday’s final game.
Hill lined a first-pitch fastball into the left-field seats for his 26th homer, after John McDonald singled with one out and Gerardo Parra singled with two.
“You can’t throw it too hard for him (Hill),” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said.
Gibson and Hill chatted when the second baseman was in the on-deck circle before his last at-bat, and Gibson reminded Hill that the D-backs had only one previous walk-off hit this season.
“He said ‘C’mon, let’s go,’ ” Hill said.
“I didn’t say I was going to do it, but it ended up working out. That’s what you think about when you are a little kid, when you are playing the street.”
Hill and Gibson have developed a familiarity this season, Hill’s first full year with the D-backs. The skipper jokingly texted Hill a week or so ago about giving him some time off, knowing full well what the response would be. It is a bond born of a similar playing style.
“He gets dirty every game,” Gibson said. “Very enthusiastic about what he does.”
That enthusiasm may translate into a Gold Glove at second base if D-backs pitchers have anything to say about it. It should translate into a Silver Slugger Award, which would give him a matching set. Hill received his first in Toronto in 2009.
With Tuesday’s double and homer, Hill has a career-high 76 extra-base hits — 44 doubles, six triples, 26 homers. Hill will finish with the highest batting average, slugging percentage and OPS of his eight-year career. He is hitting .305 entering the final game of the regular season, his first .300 season.
“I never believed for a second that I lost anything,” said Hill, who had 47 doubles in 2007 and 36 homers in 2009, but only had 27 doubles and eight homers last season.
“I always was kind of searching. What did I do differently? I was not really sure what happened. You know you have it. You just have to find that routine again and make the adjustments. It took me a year and a half to do it, but that’s the way the game is.”
Hill’s adjustment this season was in adopting a routine that he maintained every day of the season, even during a bit of a rough patch in mid-May when his batting average dipped to .233. Hill starts every day by hitting balls off a tee in the underground cages, working on his stroke. It helps him stay on top of the ball.
“For me, a home run is a product of a good swing,” he said. “I’m not a home run hitter. I hit line drives. That’s what you work on in batting practice. In the game you stay with that simple approach. You are going to catch balls and they are going to go. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to hit a home run and actually done it.
“You practice being perfect in the cage and in the tee work. You have to stay on your game and practice perfection, and hopefully it works out.”
When Hill and best friend McDonald, who also homered Tuesday, were acquired from Toronto last August, D-backs general manager Kevin Towers talked about how their infield defense would improve.
Hill did not have an error in his 33 games here last season, and he has committed only six in 152 games this season. One metric used by baseball-reference.com rates Hill as 17 runs above average at that position.
“A ground ball over there, you don’t even have to look,” starting pitcher Wade Miley said.
Reliever Brad Ziegler is also thankful Hill is behind him on the diamond.
“I know there are other guys who get more press for the spectacular play,” said Ziegler, who has induced 21 double plays, many with Hill as the middle man. “He makes just as many. Just because we are not on national TV as much, his don’t get noticed. He’s made 8 or 10 web gems just when I’m pitching.
“No. 1, his positioning in always good. He’s intelligent with what hitter is up and what I am trying to do with him. He’s got such quick hands. He’s just so steady.”