You knew it was going to be a good night when the Cubs scored four runs in the first inning despite hitting just one ball out of the infield.
Then Cole Hamels showed off some of the form that had made him one of baseball’s best pitchers over the last decade.
All that added up to a satisfying 9-2 win over the Pirates, a good way to end a five-game road trip.
That first inning was a trip. Anthony Rizzo led off with a walk and Ben Zobrist doubled him to third. That double would be the only baseball that left the PNC Park infield in the inning. A groundout by Jason Heyward scored Rizzo and moved Zobrist to third and that’s where the real fun began.
Javier Baez reached on what should have been a routine out, but Pirates second baseman Sean Rodriguez made an error that allowed Baez to be safe and scored Zobrist to make it 2-0. He advanced to second when Ian Happ was hit by a pitch.
Then Javy did some Javy [VIDEO]. He got himself picked off, but a throwing error by Pirates starter Nick Kingham got him to third, and when the ball got away, Baez scored. That made it 3-0, and Happ took third.
That brought up Kyle Schwarber, who grounded to second [VIDEO].
Rodriguez was having himself a bad inning. (Sorry not sorry.) Schwarber’s slide beat Rodriguez’s throw after the booted ball, and Happ scored to make it 4-0.
Yet another infield hit by Willson Contreras and a wild pitch put runners on second and third, but Addison Russell struck out to end the inning.
Then Hamels went to work. He would have gotten out of the first inning with no runs if not for a throwing error by Russell; otherwise his two strikeouts in the inning would have ended it with no scoring. He was hitting 95 on WGN’s pitch speed meter, and looked very much like the Hamels we used to see with the Phillies.
Kingham, who threw 51 (!) pitches in the first inning, was relieved of his duties by Steven Brault, but Brault wasn’t much better in the second inning. Zobrist singled and Heyward doubled with one out, and the Pirates ordered Baez intentionally walked to load the bases. Happ drew a bases-loaded walk for one run, and one out later Brault walked Contreras to make it 6-1 Cubs.
The game was delayed a bit in the third inning when plate umpire Chris Guccione was hit in the mask by a foul ball [VIDEO].
Guccione had to leave the game, and Ed Hickox took over as plate umpire. The rest of the game was called by three umpires.
Meanwhile, Hamels was breezing on. He struck out the side in the second, picked off Starling Marte in the third after hitting him with a pitch, struck out another pair in the fourth and two more in the fifth. Had that error not extended Hamels’ first inning to 27 pitches, he might have been able to go beyond that, but Joe Maddon apparently felt that with the big lead, he could give Hamels the rest of the night off and turn to the bullpen. Hamels wound up with nine strikeouts, two walks, no earned runs and his first hit since 2016 [VIDEO].
#Cubs Hamels on his hit: "Rizzo had a really nice bat there for me to chose and I'm glad I chose right."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 2, 2018
Hamels was also helped out by this nice diving grab [VIDEO] by Happ leading off the fifth.
The Cubs pushed one more run across in the top of the sixth on an RBI groundout by Rizzo, and then it was time for another new Cub to make his debut for the team. Brandon Kintzler allowed a one-out single in the bottom of the sixth but got out of it scoreless, and then after a one-out walk in the seventh, Joe replaced Kintzler with Carl Edwards Jr. Kintzler’s debut encompassed 25 pitches (16 strikes) and he certainly looks like a good addition to the pen, obviously on a very small sample size of one appearance.
CJ got out of the seventh with a couple of long fly outs, and then the Cubs put two more on the board in the eighth, courtesy of Contreras [VIDEO].
Willson’s ninth of the year, with Schwarber on base after a single, completed the Cubs scoring and made it 9-1. Contreras went 3-for-4 and might be getting hot right now, just as he did around this time last year, before he missed several weeks with a hamstring injury. Willson’s last 12 games: .341/.426/.537 (14-for-41) with two doubles and two home runs.
Now, a word about the two men who finished up for the Cubs. It was a perfect opportunity for Brian Duensing and Tyler Chatwood to get some innings in, in a game where the Cubs had a big lead.
Duensing allowed a pair of one-out singles and then got a ground ball that should have been an inning-ending double play, but Zobrist double-clutched the ball and a run scored. And you could tell after the play that Zobrist was upset with himself for that and for allowing the run. So I’d have to call that a moderately successful outing for Duensing. He threw strikes (13 out of 16 total pitches) and his velocity was good at 91-92.
Chatwood allowed a one-out single and a walk. Uh... that’s not good. But what was good was after that, he bore down and got a game-ending double-play ball hit right to Russell. It wasn’t a great inning... but it wasn’t a bad inning, either. Baby steps.
All in all, this was a very nice win. The Cubs’ new acquisitions acquitted themselves well, and the bats came alive, putting up the most runs in a game since July 19.
A couple more Hamels facts:
Pitchers who tossed a no-hitter vs #Cubs & pitched FOR the Cubs— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 2, 2018
Pitched for Cubs: 1907-09
Pitched for Cubs 1911-13
Pitched for Cubs: 2018-
Cole Hamels had quite a @Cubs debut, allowing 0 ER and striking out 9 while also notching a hit at the plate.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) August 2, 2018
Only other pitchers to do that in their first game after switching teams?
Nolan Ryan (1972 Angels)
Roger Clemens (2004 Astros)
John Smoltz (2009 Cards)#EverybodyIn
The other good news that happened overnight was the Dodgers’ walkoff, 10-inning win over the Brewers. Yasmani Grandal’s two-run homer gave L.A. a 6-4 win over Milwaukee, and that means the Cubs come home to begin a brief four-game homestand in first place alone, one game ahead of the Brewers, who finish up their series at Dodger Stadium Thursday night, then come home to face the Rockies, who have won 17 of their last 23.
The Cubs will open the series against the Padres at Wrigley Field Thursday evening with Mike Montgomery on the mound against Robbie Erlin. Game time is 7:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via NBC Sports Chicago.