I just love tight, well-played pitcher's duels and that's just what we got at Wrigley Field Tuesday night... as well as some other entertainment. First, the baseball.
Zack Greinke, who had an 11.57 ERA in three career starts at Wrigley coming into this game, pitched very, very well, allowing only three hits and two walks in six innings.
But Jason Hammel pitched better. Through seven innings, he'd given up just two hits, a line-drive double down the left-field line by Alberto Callaspo in the third and a fly-ball triple by Yasiel Puig in the sixth, a ball that Mike Baxter appeared to lose in the lights. Fortunately, Hammel got out of that inning with just one more pitch, a pop to short. Only one other ball, a fly to center that ended the third, even went out of the infield against Hammel.
Neither team could break through to the scoreboard, though. The Cubs left RISP in the first, third and sixth, and hit several balls hard for outs against Greinke, some of which might have left the yard on Monday's hot, sticky evening. Tuesday's weather felt nearly fall-like, with the wind blowing in over right field and temperatures in the low 60s.
In the seventh, Hammel got himself in trouble with a leadoff walk. After a sacrifice bunt and another infield out, he walked pinch-hitter Justin Turner and was removed after 107 pitches to a warm, loud ovation, the kind of thing we used to see often years ago, less so now when many starting pitchers get taken out because they've gotten their teams into trouble. Not so Tuesday night, as Hammel reduced his team-leading ERA to 2.65 (seventh-best in the National League) and his WHIP to 0.938, third-best in the N.L. and just slightly behind Greinke's 0.934.
Hammel's looking like he'll be heading to Cincinnati as a Cubs All-Star representative. He's been excellent all season.
Hector Rondon, summoned as an eighth-inning guy, got out of Hammel's jam with one pitch, though it wasn't as easy as that sounds. Rondon got Puig to hit a fly ball into short left-center field. Four Cubs -- Matt Szczur, Starlin Castro, Addison Russell and Chris Coghlan -- converged on the ball, and just when it looked like all four might collide, Coghlan raced in between Russell and Castro and caught the ball on a full-out run. Puig slammed his helmet to the ground in frustration. Good, I thought. I like when Cubs pitchers frustrate opposition hitters.
Personally, with Rondon throwing just one pitch, I though Joe Maddon might let him throw the ninth, too, especially with this one looking like it might go extras. Instead, Pedro Strop entered and, after getting two quick outs, got into trouble with a single and a walk. But Strop got Andre Ethier to bounce into a force play to end the inning.
The Cubs went down quietly in the bottom of the ninth, so indeed on they went to extras, for the 11th time this year. That's the most extra-inning games anyone's played this year (the Mariners are second with nine, the Cardinals, Padres and Pirates are tied for second-most in the N.L. with eight). Jason Motte dispatched the Dodgers 1-2-3 on just seven pitches in the top of the 10th.
The Dodgers brought in Joel Peralta to throw the bottom of the 10th, his first appearance since being activated after a nearly two-month stint on the disabled list with a compressed nerve in his neck, an injury that was reported to be career-threatening.
The 39-year-old Peralta, who pitched the last four years for Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay, looked rusty. He gave up a single to Baxter and Szczur grounded to third. It could have been a double-play ball, but Alberto Callaspo couldn't get a grip on the ball and it went for a hit. Dexter Fowler, who couldn't start due to an ankle sprain in Monday's game, pinch-hit for Motte and drew a walk, loading the bases with nobody out. With Fowler's run meaningless, Maddon sent Travis Wood in to run for him.
Don Mattingly called on his closer, Kenley Jansen. I thought the Cubs might call for a squeeze, given that it appeared to be a mismatch between Jansen and Russell. Give Russell credit -- he had a really good eight-pitch at-bat, facing nothing but 90-plus cutters from Jansen, before bouncing into a force at the plate.
That brought up Chris Denorfia and the Dodgers brought Andre Ethier into the infield, leaving just Joc Pederson in left-center and Puig in right-center. Denorfia hit a 1-2 pitch into deep center field. Most outfielders, running away from the infield, would just let that ball go, but Pederson caught it and flung it wildly toward the infield as Szczur scored the winning run.
It was the Cubs' ninth walkoff win, most in the major leagues. It was their second 1-0 win this year, tying the Dodgers and Pirates for the most such wins in 2015 (there have been 17 1-0 games in the major leagues this year). And it brought them to a season-high nine games over .500, the most over .500 a Cubs team has been since August 4, 2009. For more than nine, you have to go to 2008.
This Cubs team is good. Yes, very good. They've shown they can play the good teams tough and have won the two games in this series that figured to be the toughest, against the Dodgers' two best starters. Now, with potentially favorable pitching matchups the next two games, they have a chance to win the series. Right now it's looking like the three best teams in the National League are all in the Central Division.
That game was well-played, entertaining and had the result we all wanted. Really, you can't ask for much more from a night at the ballpark. But we got more... this!
Seriously, sign up that fan, Keith Hartley. Not only to grab that ball barehanded, but with a baby in tow? Here's CSN Chicago's interview with Hartley:
Love the comment about Adrian Gonzalez being on Hartley's fantasy team. The "anti-Bartman" remark... well, this play was pretty clear. Hartley reached over the wall and you can't do that to a player trying to make a play. The play was sent to review and the right call was made. Hammel, who hit that foul ball, was called out; it ended the bottom of the second inning. Fortunately, the play had no bearing on the outcome of the game.
Once again, weather might interfere with tonight's game, though that forecast says storms might hold off until after 10 p.m., so they've got a very good chance of getting this one in. Kyle Hendricks will take the mound against Mike Bolsinger as the Cubs go for their fifth straight win.