By Steven S. Garcia
Chicago, IL-(ENEWSPF)- On a glorious Friday afternoon, the I-55 rivalry kicked off again at Wrigley Field between the Cubs (34-27) and Cardinals (31-29). This is the 3rd meeting of the season for the 117-year rivals with the home teams sweeping the previous two meetings. The game’s starters were Cole Hamels (4-2 3.62) against Miles Mikolas (4-5 4.41).
After Hamels worked a 1-2-3 top of the 1st, the Cubs got on the board first in their bottom-half. After Anthony Rizzo drew a one-out walk, Javier Baez hit a two-out rocket shot to the opposite-field into the right-field bleachers, his 16th homer of the season tying him with Rizzo for the team lead giving the Cubs an early 2-0 lead.
Hamels continued to pitch well through four innings only allowing a double in the 2nd and a walk in the 4th.
In the Cubs’ half of the 4th inning, Carlos Gonzalez drew a walk to start the frame followed by a Javier Baez strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play. Victor Caratini hit an RBI double to left after a Jason Heyward two-out double to make the score 3-0.
Hamels continued his brilliance throughout the 7th by striking out 7 and giving up 3 hits and one walk, including a pick-off throw to 1st to get Dexter Fowler in the 6th.
The Northsiders threatened to push across a few more runs in the 7th with Ryan Helsley on the mound for St. Louis. Following walks to Victor Caratini and Albert Almora Jr., Cole Hamels laid down a one-out sacrifice bunt to advance the runners to 2nd and 3rd. The Cardinals intentionally walked leadoff man Anthony Rizzo to load the bags and get to Kris Bryant. Bryant struck out swinging to end the Cubs’ scoring threat.
Hamels struck out the side in the 8th finishing his day allowing 3 hits, one walk, and 10 strikeouts.
Pedro Strop came in to save it in the 9th. Strop served up a one-out solo-homerun to Paul DeJong then struck out Paul Goldschmidt and got Marcell Ozuna to fly out to Almora to end it for the Cubs, giving them a 3-1 victory in the series opener.
Strop picks up his 6th save of the season and Cole Hamels improved his record to 5-2.
Game 2 of the three-game weekend set takes place tomorrow evening at 6:15 PM with Jon Lester (4-4 3.32) against right-hander Jack Flaherty (4-3 3.76) for the Red Birds.
IN CUBS NEWS:
Prior to Friday’s contest with the Cardinals, the ballclub formally announced the signing of closer Craig Kimbrel with a press conference. The deal is reportedly three years and worth $43 million dollars and Kimbrel has a club option for the 2022 season.
With only six games separating the five teams in the NL Central, first-baseman Anthony Rizzo stressed the importance of signing the 31-year old pitcher. “It’s early, too. We need to win every single game. Every game is important. It’s going to come down to the wire. The National League us too good this year. We can’t take any win for granted.”
The signing did come with a bonus. The ballclub waited until after the draft to sign Kimbrel. Had a deal been reached prior to the MLB Amateur Draft, the Cubs would have owed the Red Sox a draft pick.
“We could see the prolonged time this might take, and I worked out accordingly. At this point. I’ve probably long tossed and thrown as many bullpens as I ever have. But I definitely feel good and ready to go. This isn’t about getting back on the field as I can, this is about being the best I can be in October and down the stretch and doing what I came to do for this team,” said Kimbrel.
The signing of Kimbrel was a huge deal for a Cubs bullpen that hasn’t had a true closer since Brandon Morrow injured his right elbow last season. This season, the bullpen has blown 11 saves this season. Once Kimbrel is activated, the ballclub can place the likes of Pedro Strop and Steve Cishek back into set-up roles.
Jon Lester said, “The front office stepped up big for us. That’s a huge thing for us. I just hope he can get here soon and get in uniform.”
The Cubs opted Kimbrel to Triple-A Iowa to buy him time to work through a buildup program that includes a bullpen session on Saturday in Chicago and workouts in Arizona at the team’s complex.
The Cubs are hoping to have him ready to go by June 20.
Welcome to Chicago, Craig.