You might be surprised to hear this, but I do want the Cubs to face Cole Hamels again this year.
Not at Wrigley Field, though; if the Cubs and Rangers do meet in this year's World Series, Hamels would likely start Game 1 at Globe Life Park, and that'd be just fine with me. Hamels got hit hard by the Cubs the very first time he started at Wrigley, August 24, 2006. Since then, from 2007 through Sunday's 4-1 Rangers win over the Cubs, Hamels has made five starts at Wrigley and allowed three earned runs in 39 innings. That's an 0.69 ERA. In those five starts he's given up 20 hits and six walks (0.667 WHIP) and struck out 39.
That was the buzzsaw the Cubs faced Sunday afternoon. Hamels struck out the first six batters he faced, sending folks heading to the record book to look up the record for most hitters struck out to start a game. They didn't need to look farther than the home TV booth, since that record (eight) is held by Cubs TV analyst Jim Deshaies. He did it September 23, 1986 against the Dodgers, throwing a two-hit shutout. Here's video of JD's feat:
That record was tied September 15, 2014 by the Mets' Jacob deGrom, who the Cubs should be glad they're not facing this week. DeGrom threw a one-hit shutout against the Phillies Sunday afternoon.
You'll notice I've said very little about the Cubs so far in this recap. That's because there's not much to tell. They did score a run off Hamels, unearned, in the third inning. Albert Almora Jr. became the Cubs' first baserunner on a rare fielding error by Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre. One batter later, Javier Baez laced a double [VIDEO] down the left-field line, scoring Almora and putting to rest any thoughts Hamels might have had about duplicating last year's no-hitter.
By then the Cubs were already down 2-1 because of four singles by the Rangers off John Lackey in the second inning, after Lackey put together a quick 1-2-3 first. Lackey then got himself in trouble in the fourth, walking the first two hitters and giving up an RBI double to former Cubs farmhand Robinson Chirinos to make it 3-1. Ian Desmond's towering homer in the eighth that landed about four rows in front of me completed the scoring for the afternoon.
Lackey didn't throw that badly, but against someone throwing the way Hamels did Sunday afternoon, you'd have had to be near-perfect to win. The Cubs did threaten briefly in the seventh when Willson Contreras and Addison Russell began the inning with singles, putting the tying runs on base. Jason Heyward slammed a 1-0 pitch from Hamels very hard. Unfortunately, the ball was hit right at Prince Fielder, who completed an unassisted double play [VIDEO] to end the potential rally.
Clayton Richard threw a scoreless, uneventful ninth, so that's good. The Cubs need improved bullpen work.
Sam Dyson, an under-the-radar acquisition by the Rangers at the trading deadline last year, posted his 19th save by striking out the side (Kris Bryant, who looked particularly bad this series, and Anthony Rizzo and Contreras) in the ninth.
The answer to this one is: "What are you gonna do?" The Cubs ran into a really good pitcher having a really good game. Hamels threw 65 strikes in 91 pitches before departing for Dyson. Oddly, he struck out only one hitter after the first two innings, but by then he was pitching with a lead and inducing weak contact. Most of the outs in the later innings were soft little popups to the infield or groundouts; the only really hard-hit ball was Heyward's double play liner.
It's worth noting a couple of nice Cubs defensive plays that kept the game from getting even farther out of hand than it was.
- This leaping grab by Almora, bouncing off the brick & ivy wall in left-center, with two on and one out in the second
- This diving stop by Addison Russell and strong throw to get Ryan Rua leading off the sixth
At least it was quick: two hours, 17 minutes, the fastest game at Wrigley Field this year. A drenching rain soaked the Wrigleyville area between about 9 and 10 a.m., but the storm passed over quickly and it became hot, sticky and windy, the wind blowing out at game time at 18 miles per hour. That promoted the idea that the Cubs might poke some home runs out against Hamels, but even several Cubs fly outs didn't seem to carry well despite the wind. Desmond's home run would have left the yard even without the breeze. Another note on the time of game:
Today's #Cubs game was played in a snappy 2 hours 17 minutes, quickest at Wrigley since Aug. 19, 2013 (2:14 vs Nats)— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 17, 2016
The good news is that the Marlins scored three late runs off that beleaguered Cardinals bullpen and beat St. Louis 6-3, so the Cubs' lead remains at eight games. At this writing the Pirates and Nationals are in extra innings. If the Nats win the Cubs' lead over Pittsburgh would remain at 9½ games. If the Bucs win they'll move to within 8½.
So in the end, the Cubs did what any team can hope for in a three-game set against a good team -- win it. You've got to tip your cap to Hamels, a really good pitcher, and move on and try to get some Joe Maddon meatloaf against the Mets. The series opener Monday -- reminder, an hour earlier than is listed on the original schedule, the game's at 6:05 p.m. CT -- will feature Jon Lester against Steven Matz.
And once again... here's hoping the Cubs face Cole Hamels again this year, on an October night in Arlington, Texas.