Jason Hammel was really good in the first half of 2015, before an early-July leg injury hobbled him through much of the second half. This game against the Pirates was his best start of the year. The win, the Cubs' third straight, brought them to an 11-7 record, and coupled with a Cardinals loss to the Phillies (!), they were just one game out of first place.
Once again, the complaint department door is locked up tight after a brilliant performance by Jason Hammel and the Cubs in registering their third straight win, 4-0 over the Pirates on a bone-chillingly cold Monday evening at Wrigley Field.
Hammel was outstanding. He became the first Cubs starting pitcher to throw a pitch in the eighth inning this year and threw 71 strikes in 107 total pitches, issuing no walks and striking out seven. Was there any thought of letting him finish?
#Cubs Hammel lobbied to pitch 9th. "I tried. It probably wasn't going to happen."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) April 28, 2015
Let's just say this. There has still been just one complete game in the major leagues this year, and out of 580 total games started, a pitcher has thrown 107 or more pitches just 49 times. We could be very close to seeing the death of the complete game.
That's a side story to a game played well on all cylinders by the Cubs. Until Pirates starter Vance Worley beat out a hit to very deep shortstop, it looked like Hammel might have even had no-hit stuff. And to be clear, the ball hit by Worley probably should have gone through. Starlin Castro made an outstanding effort to even get to the ball, and his long throw nearly beat Worley to first base -- if it had, that could have been a web gem of the week.
Hammel allowed only three other hits and just two runners got past first base, and that only due to an error committed by Addison Russell. Russell and Castro appeared to have a miscommunication on a potential double-play ball hit by Jordy Mercer, and both runners wound up safe and later advanced on a sacrifice bunt. Hammel struck out Josh Harrison to put an end to any thought of the Pirates scoring in this one.
Meanwhile, the Cubs' offense warmed up on this very windy, cold night. It was nice to see Jorge Soler go 2-for-4, including a line-drive double laced into the left-field corner. As has been the case so many times this year, Anthony Rizzo had a solid night at the plate with two hits and a walk, driving in a pair. The big hit in the Cubs' three-run third inning was a two-run single by Kris Bryant, who also had a pair of hits and is now tied for second on the club in RBI (nine) and walks (eight) as well as tied for the lead in doubles (four) -- all this despite spending the first 12 days of the season at Triple-A Iowa.
He'll get that first home run (and hopefully many more), but Monday night was not the night for it, as the wind blowing in strongly from center field knocked down several fly balls hit by both teams.
A scary moment happened in the seventh inning when Russell was batting. His bat flew out of his hands and hit a fan who was sitting near the Cubs' dugout. Fortunately, the fan appears to be all right:
The Cubs issued a statement, saying the fan was transported to first aid, then transferred to an ambulance and taken to a nearby hospital. According to the Cubs, he was "conscious and communicating with staff while being transported from the stands."
There's video at that link but it doesn't really show where the bat landed, except that it went several rows above a small area of plexiglass that sits above the first row next to the dugout in an area that's not protected by the screen. The only way to prevent something like this from happening would be to extend the length of the screen.
The win, combined with the Cardinals' loss to the Phillies, moved the Cubs to within one game of first place. We are just a little more than 10 percent into the season, but this team is starting to do the little things that playoff teams do. They are playing well in all aspects of the game and it was especially good to see Hammel, who had three previous starts that were all rough in some way, be dominant. Hammel has walked just one batter in 25⅓ innings, an outstanding ratio. The Cubs' staff has walked 36 in 18 games, tied for the fewest in the major leagues with the Mets. This is something Cubs pitching staffs have not done well in recent years and it's great to see.
The Cubs go for yet another series win (doesn't that sound good?) and their fourth straight victory Tuesday night at Wrigley. Travis Wood goes for the Cubs; Jeff Locke for the Pirates.