Tuesday night’s pitching match-up featured two starting pitchers at the top of their game in Jacob deGrom and Cole Hamels. deGrom, 30, is in the middle of his fifth and perhaps his best season at the major league level. Across 26 starts entering play, the right-hander owned the league’s best ERA at 1.71 but just an 8-8 record due to lack of run support from the New York Mets’ offense.
Driving deGrom’s success this season has been a drop in hard contact for the two-time All-Star. Prior to this season, the right-hander owned a 29.8 percent hard hit rate, a number that sits at 28 percent this season, the second lowest mark of his career.
Despite that rather solid percentage, the Cubs wasted little time driving a ball off deGrom on Tuesday night. Daniel Murphy, the Cubs most recent addition via a trade with the Washington Nationals, has been on fire at the plate since joining the North Side’s lineup. Before Tuesday’s match-up, Murphy was slashing .407/.448/.704 with two home runs and five RBI in his first six games in a Cub uniform. In his first at-bat of the evening, Murphy continued to make solid contact against opposing pitchers, slapping a line-drive into right field. That screaming liner was caught, however, by the Mets’ right-fielder, halting a promising first inning before it could even begin.
Unfortunately for the Cubs, Anthony Rizzo followed Murphy’s loud first out with a bloop single that very well could have scored a runner from second base had that line-drive fallen. Instead, the Cubs’ offense would fall silent against a really good deGrom. After Rizzo’s single in the first, deGrom sat down the next 10 Cubs’ batters in order. Of those 10, six were via the strikeout as the right-hander lived up to his sparkling 31.5 percent strikeout rate entering play.
Back-to-back singles in the home half of the fourth inning from Javier Baez and Victor Caratini ended that streak for deGrom and gave the Cubs their first opportunity with runners in scoring position. Kyle Schwarber, who entered play with a .202 batting average and .818 OPS with runners in scoring position this year, lined a ball back to the pitcher that resulted in a 1-3 put out to end the threat.
A lead-off single to begin the following frame could not plate the Cubs’ first run of the game as a strikeout of Tommy La Stella, fielder’s choice and ground out put a halt to the home team’s half inning.
On the home side of the pitching match-up, Hamels didn’t bring his best stuff on Tuesday night which resulted in a few jams throughout his outing. In the first, Amed Rosario kicked off the game by doubling into left-center field. A ground out by the Mets’ two-hole hitter moved Rosario to third, setting Hamels up with a tough spot right away. Like he has many times already in his Cubs’ career, Hamels worked out of the jam, getting back-to-back strikeouts to end the frame.
Two innings later, the Mets put two runners on following a Rosario single and E4. On the third pitch to Austin Jackson, the Mets attempted a double steal with Rosario breaking for third base and Jeff McNeil for second. At first, it appeared Rosario had stolen second, but after review, it was decided Caratini had caught him. Instead of setting the Mets up with runners at second and third with one away, that caught stealing gave the visiting team a runner at second with two outs. Because of that play from Caratini, Hamels was able to end the Mets’ threat, getting Michael Conforto to strikeout.
For his final high-wire act, Hamels was able to work out of his third jam of the night in the fifth inning. Following a strikeout of Brandon Nimmo, deGrom and Rosario reached base on back-to-back infield singles. A ground out moved those runners into scoring position ahead of a Jackson free pass to load the bases. Once again, Hamels was able to wiggle out of trouble, getting Conforto to punch out yet again.
Because of having to work out of jams throughout his start, Hamels was pulled after five innings due to his increasing pitch count. Despite that, through those five innings, Hamels was able to make pitches in big situations to quiet the Mets’ offense. While it was not pretty at times, the southpaw used his change-up in big spots to get himself out of tough situations. It’s for that reason that Hamels turned in another solid outing on Tuesday. The left-hander’s final line looked like this: five innings, four hits, zero earned runs, three walks and eight strikeouts on 93 pitches.
Hamels left the game with the contest locked in a scoreless affair. That, however, did not last long as Brandon Kintzler entered in relief to pitch the sixth inning. The Mets wasted little time getting to the right-hander as Adam Frazier and Jay Bruce reached base to put New York in business with no one out. A ground out put those runners on second and third with Nimmo stepping to the plate. With Nimmo being a left-handed batter, Jorge De La Rosa was called upon to clean up Kintzler’s inning. Following a pop-out by Nimmo, deGrom shot a single into the hole between third base and shortstop, enough to plate the Mets’ first run of the ball game.
The Mets’ lead was safe until the home half of the seventh when the Cubs were able to finally break through against New York’s ace. A Kyle Schwarber single was thwarted by an unsuccessful sac-bunt off the bat of Albert Almora. Instead of moving the runner over, Almora bunted into a fielder’s choice, giving the Cubs a runner at first with one away. Ben Zobrist, who was pinch-hitting for De La Rosa, then lined a ball through the right side of the infield, putting runners on first and third for David Bote.
Just a few weeks prior, Bote launched a grand slam into center field to give the Cubs a walk-off win against the Nationals. Since that moment, every time Bote steps to the plate, the Cubs’ faithful go crazy. With a chance to do damage in the seventh inning on Tuesday, it was more of the same from the home crowd. This time, Bote also got the ball airborne, but with a stiff breeze blowing in, the ball died, resulting in a sac-fly that tied the game at one.
After pushing the tying run across, the Cubs had an opportunity to take the lead a batter later. A wild pitch moved the go-ahead run into scoring position with Murphy stepping to the plate. Entering play, Murphy was hitting .309 with a .708 OPS with runners in scoring position this season, numbers that trended downward on Tuesday following a strikeout that ended the threat.
With approaching storms in the area of Wrigley Field, play was suspended in the top of the tenth inning after the Cubs went down in order during the home half of the ninth. Play was resumed the following day at noon central time with the Mets batting to lead-off extra innings.
Ben Zobrist played the hero in extras, driving home the winning run with a single in the bottom of the 11th.
Next Up For The Cubs
The Cubs will wrap-up their three-game set with the Mets on Wednesday, August 29 at 1:20 p.m. at Wrigley Field. Taking the ball for the Cubs will be Alec Mills (0-0, 1.17 ERA). Mills, 26, made his first major league start on August 24 against the Cincinnati Reds. Over 5.2 innings, the right-hander was solid, allowing just one earned run on three hits while striking out eight and walking just one batter. With Mills’ performance last time out and Mike Montgomery making his return from injury, the Cubs have decided to utilize a six-man rotation for the time being in an effort to rest guys during the stretch run.
Opposing Mills on the mound Wednesday will be Jason Vargas (4-8, 6.96 ERA). This season has been anything but good for the 35-year-old Vargas. Prior to August, the left-hander had not recorded a monthly ERA lower than 6.23. Through five starts this month, however, the southpaw is sporting a 4.37 mark over 22.2 innings, a number helped along by six innings of scoreless baseball during his last outing.
Follow Daniel Shepard on Twitter-Feature Photo Credit: Chicago Cubs