By Hal McCoy
The National League’s two best pitchers in August, Cincinnati’s Anthony DeSclafani and Chicago’s Cole Hamels played Match Game in Wrigley Field Thursday night.
As usual, though, the Reds were overmatched against Hamels, a left hander who is now 11-and-1 for his career against the Reds after the Cubs scored a 7-1 victory as Hamels pitched a masterful complete game.
Entering the game, DeSclafani was 2-0 with a 0.83 earned run average in three starts in August, all Cincinnati wins.
Pretty good, huh?
Well, Hamels entered the game with a 3-and-0 record and a 0.72 earned run average in four August starts, all Cubs wins. Those four starts all have come after the Cubs obtained him in a trade deadline deal with the Texas Rangers, where Hamels was 5-and-9.
The Reds took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on three dubious hits, a bloop double by Billy Hamilton, an infield hit to deep shortstop by Jose Peraza and infield hit by Phillip Ervin.
And that was it against Hamels.
The Cincinnati lead lasted only until the Cubs came to bat in the bottom of the first. With one out, shortstop Jose Peraza made a throwing error on a ground ball by Javier Baez. Anthony Rizzo then rocked a home run to right field, his 26th career home run against the Reds in 115 games. That made it 2-1 and neither Hamels nor the Cubs looked back.
Javier Baez made it an emphatic 3-1 in the third with a 481-foot home run to left center that cleared the bleachers and chipped asphalt on Waveland Avenue. It was the second longest home run hit in the majors this season.
During his three-game August run DeSclafani had not given up a home run, something that plagued him early in the season. Now he has given up 17 home runs in 76 innings.
After being pecked to death in the first, Hamels showed in the second inning how tough he would be. He faced four hitters and retired the side on four pitches.
Dilson Herrera bunted the first pitch and was thrown out. Curt Casali singled on the second pitch. DeSclafani bunted Casali to second on the third pitch and Billy Hamilton popped out on the fourth pitch.
The Cubs made it 4-1 in the fourth when Baez doubled and stole third without a throw as DeSclafani ignored him, and he scored on Rizzo’s deep fly ball to the wall in center field.
Daniel Murphy singled to open the seventh and DeSclafani’s night was finished. Michael Lorenzen took over and the Cubs scored three times to put the game out of reach, highlighted by a two-run single by catcher Vic Caratini.
DeSclafani’s line was six-plus innings, five runs, eight hits, two walks, four strikeouts and two home runs.
After the first inning, Hamels breezed through the next seven innings, giving up no runs, four hits and one walk. He wobbled in the ninth by giving up and infield single to Jose Peraza and a walk to Scooter Gennett.
That brought up Eugenio Suarez with a chance to tie or pass Baez on the RBI chase, but Hamels blew him away via strikeout. He fell behind Phillip Ervin 2-and-0, threw a strike and Ervin singled to left field to fill the bases with one out.
Hamels was at 107 pitches and Chicago manager Joe Maddon stayed the course with him. He went to 3-and-2 on Tucker Barnhart and on his 114th pitch to threw a game-ending double play to preserve his complete game, his first complete game in the National League since he threw a no-hitter in Wrigley Field against the Cubs when he pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies.
With his home run, Baez barged ahead of Cincinnati’s Eugenio Suarez for the National League RBI lead, 93-92. And Baez led Chicago’s 12-hit attack with three hits and three runs scored.