Joe Maddon sat down at the table inside Wrigley Field’s interview room/dungeon and a reporter asked if the Cubs manager could lead Wednesday night’s postgame news conference with Matt Harvey.
“Let’s start with Jason Hammel,” Maddon said, getting a few laughs after a 2-1 walk-off win over the New York Mets.
All the talk about this four-game litmus-test series has revolved around the first-place Mets and their young power arms and how the Cubs will measure up with their stable of power hitters.
The Cubs will now go for the sweep on Thursday afternoon after Hammel allowed only one run across eight innings and that young lineup finally broke through against New York’s bullpen.
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The Cubs outlasted The Dark Knight of Gotham.
“It was going to be the first guy to blink,” Hammel said. “And I was actually the first guy to blink. But we battled back.”
The ninth-inning rally began with Anthony Rizzo’s leadoff single against Mets reliever Carlos Torres. Pinch-runner Matt Szczur went first-to-third on Starlin Castro’s hit-and-run single to left field. An intentional walk to Miguel Montero loaded the bases in a tie game.
After Jorge Soler struck out – and with five infielders in – Chris Coghlan worked a five-pitch walk against Mets closer Jeurys Familia. That sparked a mosh pit along the first-base line.
“This team’s just different,” Coghlan said. “I know that you guys (in the media) have to compare. But you just really can’t compare, at least last year to this year or the years before. Because we have so much more talent. We have different chemistry. We have different options.”
Harvey has done late-night comedy for Jimmy Fallon, posed naked for ESPN the Magazine’s “Body Issue” and gained 136,000 followers on his personal Twitter account. Not that Hammel (3.11 ERA) and rest of this Cubs rotation necessarily feels overshadowed or underrated.
“That’s the New York media,” said Hammel, who escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first inning and notched his fourth straight quality start. “They’re going to get talked about all the time. Not to say that Chicago is any lighter.
“Obviously, they had a great start to the season (an 11-game winning streak in April). We’ve lost a couple real close ones where we could be ‘hyped.’
“But we don’t really care. We’re playing quality ball right now. As long as we keep coming out and grinding out at-bats, playing our 27 outs, we should be fine.”
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Harvey, the 2013 All-Star Game starter who missed all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, dominated for seven scoreless innings, giving up three hits and two walks against nine strikeouts.
“Every advertisement he gets, he earns,” Coghlan said. “It’s tough to admit that, but he throws and commands all four pitches. He didn’t really throw many fastballs. It was all slider, cutter, curveball, a couple changeups, and then he’ll throw the heater in there late. Not many guys that can throw 95-98 (mph) are going to do that. That’s why he’s so effective.”
The Cubs are now 18-15, winning six games in their last at-bat and feeling like they can play with anyone, anytime, anywhere.
“There’s a great vibe in our dugout,” Maddon said. “We’re developing into this group. We’re starting to really believe. When you’re able to win games late on a consistent basis that becomes part of the fabric. It’s really important to feel that way. You’re going to have to win games like that. You have to beat good pitching by pitching better than good pitching.”