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'Man on a mission' Cole Hamels makes no-hitter history against Cubs

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'Man on a mission' Cole Hamels makes no-hitter history against Cubs

The only thing that could have stopped Cole Hamels on Saturday would have been a mid-game trade to the Cubs.

Hamels was near-perfect on a humid Chicago afternoon, hurling his first career no-hitter as the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Cubs, 5-0, in front of 41, 683 at Wrigley Field. It marks the first time the Cubs have been no-hit in 7,930 games, the last coming on Sandy Koufax's perfect game nearly 50 years ago on Sept. 9, 1965.

"He looked like he was extremely focused," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said. ... "I just think he made his mind up that he's going to be who he is and he's going to do what he does best and he looked like he was on a mission. I'm thankful for it. It was a lot of fun for everybody."

[MORE CUBS: Carlos Ruiz was worried he jinxed Cole Hamels' no-hitter]

Hamels, a rumored trade target of the Cubs, tossed nine innings of no-hit ball to go along with 13 strikeouts and two walks in the Phillies' victory.

"Nothing will top winning a World Series, but I think this is probably on that top list," Hamels said. "It's right under it. Being able to go out there and feel confident executing pitches, especially against the type of team that I was facing. They're the young future of the Cubs and they're the young superstars.

"To able to keep those guys off balance because they could put some serious damage on any sort of pitcher no matter what type of accolades you have. Then getting the plays I was able to get. I was able to keep the guys off balance enough. Guys were making huge plays behind me."

The only two times the Cubs reached base came via a Dexter Fowler first inning walk and a Fowler sixth inning free pass that broke a string of 15 consecutive batters retired by Hamels.

[MORE CUBS: Trade Deadline - Maddon leaving Cubs business up to Theo, Jed]

"He had everything going on," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "His velocity was up. His change is always outstanding. His curveball was there. We hit a couple balls well towards the end. They didn't fall, but under the circumstances like this give the guy the credit."

The Cubs came close to notching their only hit off of Hamels by consecutive batters in the eighth inning. David Ross flew out deep to left field, followed by a pinch-hitting Kyle Schwarber who sent a liner back up the middle that Hamels was able to snag.

And a no-hitter or perfect game wouldn't be complete without some late-inning drama. 

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the only obstacle standing between Hamels and MLB history was Kris Bryant. The Cubs rookie phenom launched a fly ball to the warning track in center where Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera raced back before having to come back in to make a sliding catch in front of the wall.

"Thank goodness the win was blowing in," Hamels said. "I think I've been here a few times when the wind was blowing out. Knowing every once in awhile you'd like to get away with a pitch, that was definitely that one pitch that I'm glad I got away with. You've got a great hitter up there in Kris Bryant.

"Being able to keep that in the ballpark and then Herrera making an amazing play the second time. Outstanding for him to be able to do that and go all out. I'm glad he didn't get hurt. It's just real nice to see that happen and everything. It was a surreal moment."

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

The Phillies got in front early when Ryan Howard clobbered a Jake Arrieta two-out pitch to center for a three-run homer in the third inning. Philadelphia tacked on two more runs in the eighth when Freddy Galvis' doubled and came along to score along with Cody Asche on an ill-advised throwing error by first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

The last no-hitter in Phillies franchise history came on Sept. 1, 2014 when Hamels, Jake Diekman, Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon combined for one in a 7-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves. 

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

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USA TODAY

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

A few weeks after the we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the off-season, I was in the early stages of a break from following a pocket schedule to tell me where to be every day for nearly eight months.

But this was a man I could not refuse. I chose my college major to go into his field of transportation engineering and he was calling because he needed a teaching assistant to accompany him on his trip to South Africa.

One minute I could barely move off of my couch in my Chicago apartment after losing Game 7 against the Marlins. The next minute, I would be standing within miles of the Southern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Why not? I needed the distraction so I agreed to go.

The offseason is its own transition. Leaving the regimen of routine, of batting practice and bus times, to an open ended world that you have to re-learn again. When I finished my first full major league season in 1997, I lived in Streeterville at the Navy Pier Apartments.

That offseason, I decided to stay an extra month in Chicago only to wake up panicked for the first two weeks because I thought I was missing stretch time for a home day game. A major league schedule becomes etched in your DNA after a while.

It is also a time that you get to reflect. The regular season does not give you a moment to really get perspective on what was just accomplished, what it all means, what you would change. I always joked about the T-shirt I wanted to a sell that listed all of the things a major league player figures out during the off-season. From the perfect swing to the ex-girlfriend you need to un-break-up with next week.

It all becomes so clear when a 96 MPH fastball isn’t coming at you.

For years, I would arrange a training program to follow, but I quickly learned that I had to mix it up. There was only so much repetition I could stand in the off-season. So some years, I moved to the site of spring training and worked out early with the staff, other years I found a spot at home where I grew up or wherever I played during the season, to train.

I was single when I played, but now with a family, I have a better understanding of the challenges my teammates would express as they were re-engaging as a daily father again after this long absentee existence.

To keep it fresh and spicy, when I got older in the game, I enrolled in a dance studio and took a winter of dance lessons. Salsa, Foxtrot, Rumba, you name it. On Thursdays we had to dance for an hour straight, changing partners in the room every song change. Dancing with the Stars had nothing on me.

Of course, not every offseason is fun and games. There were years when I wasn’t sure I would have a job the next year, or I was in the throes of a trade rumor. In 1997, I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies two days before Christmas. In 2002, my father passed away on the last game of the season, leading the offseason to be a time of mourning.

By my final season in 2005, I thought I was officially on my couch forever. I was going to fade away into oblivion like many players do. No fanfare, the phone just would stop ringing and I would just let the silence wash over me. The Yankees had called earlier in that off-season, acting like they were doing me a favor which I turned down, then they called back later with a more open tone, seeing me as a potential key piece in their outfield with Bernie Williams slowing down quite a bit at that point.

I did get off that couch for that call, only to get released the last week of camp, so I was back on the couch, with a fiancé and some extra salt in the wounds after that final meeting with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, who boxed me into the coaches office to tell me I was released. Released? Come on. Never had that happen before.

The Cubs players will go through all of this if they have the good fortune of playing a long time. The wave of uncertainty, the meaning of age in this game spares no one. Each offseason is a time to reset, a period where you get away, seemingly adrift from the game, then as spring gets closer, the shoreline comes up in the horizon once again, magnetically drawing you to its shores for another season.

Amazingly, you don’t always know your age and what it has done to your body. 34 can’t be that old, right? I can still run, or throw 95. Then those 23-year-olds in camp are the wake up call, or maybe you are that 23-year-old and can’t believe your locker is next to Ryne Sandberg’s.

Then you blink, and you are advising Jimmy Rollins about etiquette and realize you have become that guy, the seasoned vet, preaching about locker room respect.

For the 2018 Cubs, they fell short of their goal to repeat their 2016 magic. Failed to meet their singular destination that meant success over all else. Yet, those who come back for 2019, will not be the same player, the same person, that left the locker room at the close this season. They will have grown, changed, aged, wizened up, rehabbed, hardened. All of which means that new perspective is the inevitable part of this time off, whether you like it or not.

Baseball is a game that has this unique dynamic. The highest intensity rhythm of any sport. Every day you are tested. You are pushed to the brink by sheer attrition. According to my teammate Ed Smith, who was playing third base at the time when Michael Jordan reached third, Jordan, after playing well over 100 games in a row, said to him “Man, I have never been this tired in my entire life.”

The grind.

Then it stops on a dime. Season over. Only on baseball’s terms.

But you may be granted another spring. Another crack at it. Until one day, the baseball winter never ends and its time for you to plant your own spring.

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.