Jason Hammel sat down with pitching coach Chris Bosio during the rain delay and watched video, trying to break down what went wrong during a season that’s gone so right for the Cubs (so far).
“It’s one of those nights where it seemed like they knew what was coming,” Hammel said after a 10-8 loss that saw the Detroit Tigers generate 19 hits as Tuesday night turned into Wednesday morning.
Wrigley Field had gotten loud and felt like a playoff atmosphere. For a moment, it became hard to tell which team recently fired its general manager, traded away its best pitcher and started to play for the future.
Dave Dombrowski is now running baseball operations for the Boston Red Sox, David Price is pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tigers aren’t the same monster team that won four division titles in a row.
But for all the optimism on the North Side, the Cubs (67-50) haven’t accomplished anything close to that run yet. They absolutely need Hammel if they’re going to catch the Pittsburgh Pirates, hold off the San Francisco Giants and play deep into October.
“It’s unacceptable right now,” Hammel said. “We’re in the middle of something special.”
The Cubs still hold the second wild-card position, running three games behind the Pirates and three games in front of the Giants in what should be six-plus weeks of dramatic, meaningful baseball.
Detroit (57-61) hit Hammel hard in the first inning, almost drilling back-to-back-to-back homers – Miguel Cabrera’s line drive to left field became a ground-rule double after a replay review showed fan interference – and that started the “Let’s go Tigers!” chants.
Hammel put the Cubs in a 3-0 deficit and then gave up a two-run homer to Anthony Gose in the second inning, creating more questions about Joe Maddon’s quick hook, last month’s hamstring injury and the potential for a stretch-run fade after a first half that approached an All-Star level.
Maddon allowed Hammel to throw only 65 pitches in his last outing, and the manager pulled the veteran right-hander after four-plus innings in the start before that. The Cubs wound up winning both those games and going on a nine-game winning streak.
This time, Mother Nature made the decision for Maddon with a tornado watch, a flash flood warning and a rain delay that started in the third inning and lasted two hours and 17 minutes.
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Maddon said Hammel is healthy, the velocity is there and the stuff is good: “He’s trying like way too hard.”
“I’ve probably been out of sync for the last few starts, but physically I feel fine,” Hammel said. “For whatever reason, mechanically, execution-wise, I’m not getting the ball down in the zone the way I did before. We’ll go back to the drawing board.
“Effort-wise, I don’t feel like I’m doing anything different. I’m not trying to overthrow. Sometimes, less is more. It’s disappointing to go out there and have good stuff – like I did tonight – and just kind of get hit around the yard.”
The Tigers wound up beating Pedro Strop with finesse in the eighth inning. With Bob Costas up in the Wrigley Field press box calling the game for MLB Network, Detroit bunted for two singles before Strop walked Cabrera and J.D. Martinez drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly to center field.
The crowd of 39,684 had almost disappeared by then, with wide stretches of empty green seats throughout the ballpark. Strop intentionally walked pinch-hitter Victor Martinez before Nick Castellanos lifted a soft single into shallow right field to score two more runs.
The Cubs are supposed to be the rising power now and believe they can play with anyone. That starts with pitching.
“I don’t want anybody to change anything right now,” Maddon said. “I promise you, I mean that sincerely: There’s nothing I would change about our guys right now. Some have met adversity and fought through it. Others have been there, done that before and they understand how to do it.”