Jason Hammel and Matt Harvey put together a great pitchers' duel in this one. The Cubs' bullpen wound up being just a bit better than the Mets' on this day, and the Cubs had their third walkoff win of 2015.The win improved the Cubs' record to 18-15, and they picked up a game on the Cardinals for the first time in a week, cutting their deficit to five games. They remained in second place, ahead of the Pirates.
I love games like this one.
Outstanding pitching on both sides. Well-turned defensive plays. Managers trying to out-think each other and taking chances.
When the Mets broke a scoreless tie off Jason Hammel in the sixth, and Matt Harvey was still dealing at 95-plus, I was considering how to write a recap that had to praise the opposing pitcher. Sometimes that happens -- your guy throws well, but the other guy is better. And Harvey was really, really good through seven innings. He gave up just three hits and only two Cubs got past first base, one when Anthony Rizzo was hit by a pitch with Kris Bryant on first in the fourth, the other on Addison Russell's sixth-inning double. Russell was wild-pitched to third with two out, but was stranded.
Harvey threw 100 pitches through seven, just the second time this year he's reached that milestone, and in a year when he's coming off Tommy John surgery, Mets manager Terry Collins figured he'd save the arm of his ace.
That might have worked for him if the Mets had more than a 1-0 lead, but the Cubs immediately got that run back off reliever Carlos Torres. Russell singled with one out and was wild-pitched to second. A single by Dexter Fowler scored Russell with the tying run. Fowler tried to take second on the throw, but was caught between first and second. That appeared to be a big play at the time; had Fowler remained on base with only one out, maybe the Cubs could have broken the tie right there.
Jason Hammel threw eight really strong innings, the second time he's done that this year and just the third time a Cubs starter has thrown eight this season. He allowed five hits and a walk and struck out six on a chilly night that felt more like November than May, a night conducive to a pitcher's duel.
Joe Maddon sent Zac Rosscup out to start the ninth against Lucas Duda. Now, here's where the psychology of the closer comes into play. Rosscup and Hector Rondon were both warming up in the bullpen during the Cubs' eighth; had the Cubs taken the lead then, Rondon certainly would have come into the game to face Duda. What's the difference, really? Just because it would have been a save situation? Instead, Rosscup faced the lefthanded Duda. Duda singled and only then did Rondon come into the game.
Fortunately, Rondon dispatched three Mets quickly, on just seven pitches, and we were on to the bottom of the ninth.
Again, Collins fell into a common managerial trap. Not a save situation? Well, leave your closer in the bullpen, even though Jeurys Familia had been dominant this year and hadn't thrown since Sunday. Torres remained in the game to start the ninth and Rizzo led off with a single. Maddon sent Matt Szczur in to run for him.
There's a "win now" move, no doubt. To take your best hitter out of a game that has a fair chance of heading to extras? I wouldn't have done it.
Starlin Castro singled Szczur to third. Now the Cubs have the winning run 90 feet away with nobody out, and Maddon's move is looking better. The Mets had Torres intentionally walk Miguel Montero, and only then did Collins call on Familia.
That's a tough situation for any pitcher -- bases loaded, nobody out, a walk or a hit or a wild pitch or a hit batsman scores the winning run. Familia struck out Jorge Soler on a 97 mile-per-hour pitch that was just nasty. Soler had a rough night, striking out twice and hitting into a pair of double plays.
Familia didn't wind up as nasty against Chris Coghlan, though. He couldn't find the strike zone -- even the pitch Coghlan swung at and missed wasn't a strike. He walked Coghlan on a 3-1 fastball in the dirt and the Cubs had their third consecutive win over the Mets, who had breezed through their first 31 games at 20-11. The three games at Wrigley are the first games the Mets have played all year against an N.L. team outside the N.L. East. Maybe the N.L. Central is a tougher division this year.
The Cubs turned a couple of defensive plays in the late innings that helped preserve this game for their late-inning rallies. In the seventh, Dilson Herrera bounced a one-out single up the middle. Harvey, still in the game, set up to bunt. Harvey popped his bunt attempt to the right side of the mound where Rizzo let it drop. He fired to second to force Herrera and Russell's relay easily caught Harvey for an inning-ending double play.
In the eighth, Michael Cuddyer rocketed a two-out line drive that appeared to be headed toward left field, but Bryant made a nice snag to end the inning.
Timely hitting, strong pitching, great defense and a win. What more can you ask for?
A sweep, that's what we can ask for, and the Cubs will go for a four-game sweep Thursday afternoon with Travis Wood on the mound against New York's Jon Niese.