CHICAGO – Cubs batters did their best to take advantage of good hitting conditions Friday at Wrigley Field.
Cubs pitcher Cole Hamels did his best to tame those conditions.
Making like Greg Maddux or Fergie Jenkins of days gone by, the 35-year-old Hamels set the pace on the mound and worked eight innings as the Cubs beat the Los Angeles Angels, 5-1, in a two-hour, 29-minute game with the wind blowing out at 19 mph.
Cubs batters didn’t really need the help of the wind. Willson Contreras crushed two baseballs onto Waveland Avenue, Anthony Rizzo hit one to the back of the right field bleachers, and David Bote hit his first homer of the year.
All of a sudden, the Cubs have won two in a row and have improved to 5-8.
“It was blustery, as you saw,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Even pop-ups were just kind of funneling back to the middle of the field. We hit some balls really, really good. All four [homers] were properly struck.
“Cole put the ball on the ground a lot. He got a couple strikeouts in there. He was making his pitches. He had a nice rhythm about him. Did you notice how quickly he was getting the ball and just pitching the baseball? That was a 2½-hour game. That was a big part of it right there, just throwing the baseball. Such a professional.”
The Cubs have enjoyed two stellar starts in a row. On Thursday night, Jose Quintana turned in the Cubs’ longest start of the season with seven innings. Hamels did that one better Friday, giving up four hits and one run while walking none and striking out six. The only run he gave up came on a homer to Albert Pujols leading off the fourth.
“Unfortunately, Albert brought his 2-iron,” Hamels quipped.
But seriously, the Cubs have five quality starts this season – two by Jon Lester, two by Hamels and one by Quintana – and they’re 4-1 in those games, with the starters posting a 1.91 ERA.
Like pitchers who’ve had success in the old days at Wrigley, Hamels (2-0) managed the ballpark.
“I was seriously trying to hit a homer, but it didn’t happen,” he said. “I think that’s only the second time I’ve pitched with the wind blowing out. I think the first time was probably my worst game here ever. So I’ve been fortunate enough to have either no wind or the wind blowing in.
“I just know that you have to make pitches. And whatever happens, happens. You can’t really live up in the zone, especially with the way the game is now, with launch angles and guys now really trying to put the ball in the air. You just have to be smart, and I think that’s what I was really trying to do, trying to stay out of the slug zones for hitters.”
The Cubs did their slugging from the get-go against Angels lefty Tyler Skaggs. Kris Bryant singled with one out in the first inning, and Rizzo followed with a 472-foot blast to right-center. Two batters later, Contreras found Waveland for the first time.
Bote hit a solo homer to left-center in the fourth, and Contreras took to the streets again leading off the sixth.
The wind can mess with hitters’ minds, too.
“It’s really hard, to be honest,” said Contreras, who has five homers this season. “It happened to me last year. Whenever I saw the wind blowing out, I was trying to hit something in the air or hit a 1,000-foot homer, but it didn’t work out.”
Rizzo’s homer was his longest in the Statcast era, which began in 2015.
“It could be a mind game sometimes,” he said. “Usually you see that wind blowing out, for me, when my eyes light up, that’s when I get jammed three times in the game.”