When the Cubs acquired Cole Hamels to help shore up their battered starting rotation, I don’t think anyone anticipated him turning into the 2018 version of 2017 Justin Verlander.
Maybe it’s still a bit early to make that pronouncement, but a refreshed and rejuvenated Hamels threw the Cubs’ first complete game of the season, a gem of a 7-1 win over the Reds finished off with a double play.
It was the Cubs’ first complete game since Jose Quintana shut out the Brewers September 24, 2017 at Miller Park. It was the first Cubs complete game at Wrigley Field since Jon Lester did it against the Giants May 23, 2017, 15 months and 253 games ago. And it was just the 36th complete game by anyone in the major leagues in 2018.
Hamels gave up a run in the first inning, but it wasn’t all his fault. A catchable baseball dropped in center field for a leadoff double by Billy Hamilton, and with two out and runners on first and third, Daniel Murphy made a great stop on a grounder by Phillip Ervin, but threw high to first base and a run scored.
So, the Cubs would just have to come from behind again. They wasted no time doing so. Javier Baez reached on a throwing error and that brought up Anthony Rizzo [VIDEO].
Just like that, it’s 2-1 Cubs, a lead they would not relinquish. More on Rizzo, who was 2-for-2 with a walk, two runs scored and three RBI:
Anthony Rizzo this season— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 24, 2018
Before May 1 (18 games): .149/.259/.189, 1 HR, 9 RBI
Since (98 games): .295/.388/.518, 20 HR, 74 RBI#Cubs
So after a month where he looked totally lost at the plate, since May 1 Rizzo’s basically been the guy he has been for the last five years.
Hamels breezed through the next two innings, allowing just one hit, and with one out in the third, Javy stepped to the plate [VIDEO].
That one landed on the back concourse next to the left-field porch, according to this:
And here are the numbers on that titanic blast:
Baez's HR is the longest at Wrigley Field this season and 3rd longest at Wrigley since @statcast began measuring in 2015. Bryant hit 495 ft HR on Sept. 6, 2015; Contreras hit 491 ft HR in playoffs last Oct. 18. #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 24, 2018
Hamels only seemed to get stronger as the game went on. He issued a walk in the fourth but the runner was erased on a double play. In the fifth Hamilton singled with two out, but Hamels picked him off [VIDEO].
Now that’s also something the Cubs haven’t done well this year up to now — execute a rundown play with a minimum of throws.
A double by Baez with one out in the fifth led to him stealing third uncontested. He scored on a Rizzo sacrifice fly to make it 4-1. Hamels allowed another single in the sixth, but ended the inning with a double play that needed review to finish off the frame [VIDEO].
This is the kind of play that review seems designed for. As you can see, that one wasn’t really close at all, and the umpires were on the headsets with New York for less than a minute before the call on the field was overturned.
The seventh inning went 1-2-3 for Hamels, but only because of some Javy El Mago magic [VIDEO].
What more can you say about Javy? He just acts on incredible baseball instincts. I don’t think any other shortstop — save maybe Francisco Lindor or Carlos Correa — even comes close to making that play.
The Cubs put the game away in the last of the seventh. Murphy singled, went to second on a groundout and scored on a single by Ben Zobrist after Rizzo was intentionally passed. One out later, Ian Happ walked to load the bases and Victor Caratini singled up the middle to make it 7-1 [VIDEO], though Happ was then thrown out trying take third.
Hamels batted leading off the eighth to a warm ovation, and though the Cubs put two runners on base, there was no further scoring.
Another round of applause greeted Hamels as he took the mound for the ninth. A ground ball to Baez by Jose Peraza turned into an infield hit. There are times, I think, where Javy takes just a little too much time throwing what should be a routine out. Most of the time he’s good enough to get the runner. Not this time, and Peraza had an infield hit.
Hamels walked Scooter Gennett, and that brought Jim Hickey out for a brief discussion. Hamels was at 97 pitches at this point. He struck out Eugenio Suarez for the first out, but then Ervin singled to load the bases.
Jesse Chavez had started getting loose after Hickey’s mound visit, and you could tell that if Hamels didn’t get Tucker Barnhart, he was going to be lifted.
Fortunately, Hamels got Barnhart to hit a sharp grounder right to David Bote at third. Bote stepped on third and threw to first [VIDEO] for a game-ending double play, Hamels completing his masterpiece with 117 pitches (76 strikes).
Cole Hamels this season— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 24, 2018
10 starts with 3+ earned runs with Rangers
3 earned runs COMBINED in 5 starts with #Cubs
Cole Hamels in 5 starts with #Cubs:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 24, 2018
0.79 ERA, 34.0 IP, 24 Hits, 8 Walks, 30 Strikeouts, 0 HR, 0.941 WHIP
#Cubs Cole Hamels is the first in season acquisition to allow one run or fewer in each of his first five starts with his new team since Lee Meadows—who was dealt from the Cardinals to the Phillies—in 1919.— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) August 24, 2018
Hamels comparing his last few starts with Rangers to now with #Cubs: "To be a Major League pitcher, you're going to have some tough times. You can't give in. You have to fight. That's what it's all about, about trying to be the best."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 24, 2018
Hamels has certainly been just about “the best” since he came to the Cubs. He looks like the guy who helped lead the Phillies to a World Series title... 10 years ago. Who knows? Maybe he can help do that again here. Here’s Hamels’ postgame live TV interview [VIDEO].
Javier Báez— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 24, 2018
Last 4 games: 9 for 19, 2 HR, 0 strikeouts
Prev. 10 games: 5 for 38, 0 HR, 11 strikeouts#Cubs
#Cubs Maddon on Baez's 481-foot HR: "Schwarber was standing next to me and said, 'God, that ball was 500 feet.' Guys who play out there and are hitting, they realize it. He said, 'I don't think I've seen a ball go up there.' I didn't realize it was that far but it came off hot"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 24, 2018
#Cubs Baez on his HR: "I think that was one of my dreams, to hit a ball like that with the wind blowing out. Finally, we got it."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 24, 2018
The whole game was the sort of game we’ve come to expect from the Cubs as contenders and a postseason team over the last three years. Here’s Rizzo’s take on that and on Joe Maddon’s “American Legion Week”:
“Being home refuels this team,” said Rizzo, who often takes advantage of arriving later than usual to games during Legion week. “It’s going to pay huge dividends.”
Let’s hope he’s right. This homestand could be a time where the Cubs go on that run we’ve all been waiting for. The win gave the Cubs an additional half game on the idle Cardinals and Brewers. They now lead St. Louis by three games and Milwaukee by 3½ going into Friday’s action.
And so, after a game this good, the complaint department is locked and bolted shut. Well done by everyone involved.
Alec Mills will be recalled from Triple-A Iowa to start Friday against the Reds. The Cubs will have to make a roster move to make room before the game. It’s possible Dillon Maples, who was called up Thursday but along with the rest of his bullpen mates got the night off thanks to Hamels, will go back, or it could be Randy Rosario optioned back to Iowa. Mills will face Reds righthander Matt Harvey at 1:20 p.m., weather permitting. TV coverage Friday will be via NBC Sports Chicago. And one note about Harvey:
Sources: Brewers are the team that got the claim on Matt Harvey. They have 5 hours, 18 minutes to go before their deadline for this trade (deadline is 1:30 et)— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) August 24, 2018
So... it’s entirely possible Harvey gets traded before today’s game and the Reds will start someone else. As always, we await developments.