Tough as Steele: Steele goes the distance as Cubs beat Angels
David Banks - USA Today Sports

Tough as Steele: Steele goes the distance as Cubs beat Angels

by - Senior Writer -

CHICAGO — It has been long overdue, but for the first time in 2024 and the first time since last September, Chicago Cubs (41-48) left-hander Justin Steele has walked away from a start with a winning decision, and he did so in style.

Facing off against the Los Angeles Angels (36-51) at Wrigley Field on Friday, Steele was as dominant as the Cubs had seen him, and he was dialed in from the start. Steele took a no-hitter into the fifth before losing that on a single. Apart from that, not much went wrong for the left-hander as he went the distance for his first career complete game in the Cub's 5-1 win.

Steele walked two and struck out seven, and his ERA has fallen to 2.95 after being above 6.00 earlier this season. The best way to settle in as a starter is to be given an early lead, which the Cubs granted Steele right from the jump. That has been an issue for Steele all season, as many of his starts have resulted in little to no run support, which is a big reason why he was winless heading into this game.

With two outs in the first, Cody Bellinger kept the inning alive as his excellent start to July continued with a single up the middle. That was followed by the Seiya Suzuki homer, and just like that, it was the Cubs in front 2-0, and they never looked back.

First-inning homers have been an issue for Griffin Ganning, who has allowed an MLB-leading eight first-inning homers with that shot. It was also the Cubs' first-inning homer at home in over a month, which further highlights this team's offensive struggles.

Anytime you can give Steele any lead in the early innings, you have to love your chances. Steele bounced back from a first-inning walk to settle in, and he retired the next 10 hitters he faced as the Angels searched for answers. That put the pressure on Canning to keep things close, and with Michael Busch leading off the bottom of the third with a walk, the Cubs offense was in business again.

One of the things the Cubs have been doing a much better job with lately is finding a way to bring runners home in scoring position. With Ian Happ picking up a two-out single in the third, that streak continued as the Cubs pushed their lead to 3-0.

Happ has really turned his season around, as he now leads the team with 52 RBIs, including 38 RBIs in his last 36 games.

There weren't too many times when Steele was tested on the mound, but after a dropped fly ball from Suzuki followed by another walk, the Angels had a pair of runners on with two outs, only to have Miles Mastrobuoni make a great diving stop to end the inning. Despite seeing limited time, Mastrobuoni made the most of his start at third as he came away with several great plays on defense and deserves a ton of credit for keeping the Angels off the board.

With his no-hitter still intact in the fifth, it was a familiar face in former Milwaukee Brewer Keston Hiura who put an end to that as his single to right ended the no-hit bid by Steele. Two batters later, his shutout was also gone as Taylor Ward cashed in with an RBI single to left to cut the Cubs lead to 3-1. Not only was that their only run of the game, but it was their final baserunner as Steele dominated the rest of the way and retired the final 13 hitters to end the game.

“There's a confidence that you sense,” Counsell said after the game. “And when it's a starting pitcher, they know what they're capable of. And they also feel that responsibility of, ‘It's my job to do this.’ And that's where you try to get. That's where pitchers try to get. They take games unto themselves, really.”

Despite holding the lead from the first inning on, the Cubs never felt comfortable with this lead. Looking to add on, the Cubs picked up a leadoff double from Busch in the fifth before coming home on another Happ single to extend the lead to 4-1.

One inning later, the same story as Tomas Nido delivered a two-out double to keep the inning alive before Nico Hoerner cashed in with another RBI single to make this a 5-1 Cubs lead.

That would be the last of the runs for either team as the Angels pen continues to lead the MLB in ERA since June 15, while Steele took his shutout into the ninth. Looking to finish things off, Steele was set to throw a pitch in the ninth inning for the first time in his career. Two pitches later, the Angels were down to their final out before Mastrobuoni recorded the final out for his starter as Steele went the distance for his first complete game win in the Cubs 5-1 victory.

"Wrigley's a special place," Steele said after the win. "They knew it was a special moment for me. The feel, the crowd and the energy, it's truly special. You can't really put into words how special the Wrigley faithful is. I can't thank them enough. That was a lot of fun today."

This is one of those series that you can look at and say the Cubs need to win and they got off to a great start on Friday. Busch and Happ led the way for the Cubs as they picked up two hits. Happ and Suzuki did most of the heavy lifting on offense as they combined for four RBIs in the win.

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