Hamels stands out in debut as Cubs throttle Pirates

by - Senior Writer -
Cole Hamels fanned nine hitters in five innings of solid work on the hill. (Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
Cole Hamels fanned nine hitters in five innings of solid work on the hill. (Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

PITTSBURGH — Stepping onto the mound for the first time as a member of the Chicago Cubs (62-45), veteran ace Cole Hamels showed out in his team debut less than a week removed from being traded to the North Siders by the Texas Rangers (46-63). Producing a quality start against the Pittsburgh Pirates (56-53), Hamels helped the Cubs take control of the game early and cruise to a one-sided 9-2 victory. With the win, the Cubs split the two-game series at PNC Park with the rival Pirates.

Making his much-anticipated Cubs debut, Hamels pitched a gem in his five innings of work by striking out nine batters and giving up only three hits. Understandably, Hamels was pulled with the Cubs leading by five runs, but he was left in long enough to earn the win and improve to 1-0 in his Cubs career. Hamels became just the fourth pitcher to ever tally at least nine strikeouts without giving up any earned runs in his Cubs debut.

Pirates pitcher Nick Kingham also had his start ended prematurely but for very different reasons. Lasting just one inning, Kingham gave up four runs, two of which were earned, and also hit a batter, threw a wild pitch and committed an egregious throwing error. Chicago scored four runs in the opening frame, despite hitting the ball out of the infield just once. Kingham was forced to throw 50 pitches in the inning, which featured several defensive blunders from Pittsburgh, including two blatant errors.

Kingham began the game by walking Anthony Rizzo and issuing a double to Ben Zobrist. Jason Heyward drove in the first run on an RBI groundout. The game quickly got away from the Buccos after that, when second baseman Sean Rodriguez misplayed a routine grounder from Baez for a fielding error. Zobrist scored on the play, and Baez, who took first base, soon advanced to second base once Ian Happ was hit by a pitch.

Next, Baez attempted to steal third but was caught in the act by Kingham. Kingham merely had to make a simple throw over to third baseman David Freese for a tag out, but, instead, he hurled the ball well of the mark and into foul territory. Baez was officially scored as having gotten caught stealing on the play, but he scored, nonetheless, because of Kingham's error.

After that, with Happ on third base, another misplay by Rodriguez on a grounder led to a run-scoring grounder. This time, Kyle Schwarber reached base, with Happ coming home to score. Schwarber, who slid feet-first into the bag, was credited with a single, but Rodriguez's blunder definitely aided his cause.

Trailing 4-0 at that point, the Pirates found themselves in a deep hole at a very early stage in the game. Francisco Cervelli made up a run for Pittsburgh with a two-out RBI single in the bottom half of the first, which was charged as an unearned run to Hamels because of an error committed earlier in the inning, but the Bucs did not put up much of a fight the rest of the way. Steven Brault replaced Kingham to start the second and made matters worse for the Pirates by giving up two runs on five hits and five walks over the course of three innings.

Brault, who gave up a one-out single and a one-out double to Zobrist and Heyward, respectively, made the score 5-1 in the top of the second by walking Happ with the bases loaded right after Baez was intentionally walked. A few at-bats later, Brault did the same thing, forcing in a run by walking Willson Contreras with the bases juiced.

Later, in the sixth, Contreras got in on the run-scoring action by coming home on an RBI groundout by Rizzo to make the score 7-1. He followed that with a two-run blast in the eighth inning for his ninth home run of the year. Schwarber score on the dinger. Along with Heyward and Zobrist, Contreras was one of three Cubs to collect three hits on the evening.

An offensive onslaught, the Cubs racked up 15 hits and seven walks in their shellacking of the Pirates. Several Cubs batters totaled as many as six plate appearances. Even Hamels, who is fresh off a three-year stint in the American League, picked up a hit. A long game that lasted over three and a half hours, the contest was prolonged by dismal Pirates pitching, as well as a third-inning delay for the home-plate umpire after he was shaken up by a foul tip that drilled his mask.

Hamels was not the only Cubs pitcher to make a debut of some sort. Newly acquired reliever Brandon Kintzler tossed 1.1 innings of scoreless ball. In addition, Tyler Chatwood, who was relegated to the bullpen as a result of the Hamels acquisition, finished off the game with a scoreless ninth, in which he forced the Pirates into a game-ending double play. That marked Chatwood's first relief appearance for Chicago.

The Pirates scored a run in the bottom of the eighth on an RBI groundout from Jose Osuna, but the Cubs still won rather comfortably. A total of five errors, two of which were committed by Contreras, were suffered in a game that definitely did not serve as a defensive clinic. Kingham received the loss to fall to 5-6 on the year. The Cubs currently lead the 19-game season series with the Pirates by a close margin of 6-5 through 11 meetings.

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