By Joe Hines
PSDC Staff & Chicago Guru
Excited as always about heading to Wrigley Field for a Cubs game, I make the hour and a half journey via I-90. Cubs and Phillies. Arrieta vs. Hamels. The Cubs are in playoff contention, the Phils own baseball’s worst record. What could go wrong?
Well, we all know how that worked out.
Having had a day or two to digest the historic game when soon-to-be ex-Philly Cole Hamels twirled the first no-hitter against the Cubs since Sandy Koufax was perfect against them in September of 1965, two things are forefront in my mind. First, if my beloved Cubs are to lose a game that I go to, witnessing history is a pretty good consolation prize. Second, with Philadelphia still dangling Hamels, he came up with a hell of an audition.
Early in the week, when the pitching matchup is assigned for the game, ones eyes and ears can’t help but perk up when one hears Arrieta/Hamels. Two premier pitchers in the league. As a Cub fan, the awareness of the possibility of history rises each time Arietta takes the hill. His “stuff” is electric, and he has taken no-hitters into the seventh inning on at least three occasions since he came to the Cubs last year. With Hamels having struggled his last two starts, if someone had suggested a no-hitter would be thrown by one of the starting pitchers, Arrieta would be the obvious choice.
Once the game started and progressed, it became apparent that Jake didn’t have his A-game. Philly jumped out to an early lead. It wasn’t until about the fourth inning that I looked up at the fabled Wrigley Field center field scoreboard and noticed a blank next to the Cubs hits column.
Arrogantly believing that my posts to social media can affect the results on the field, I begin posting updates to a Hamels no-hitter as if it will jinx the lefty’s ability to join history.
The innings rolled on, Arrieta settled in, but the damage had been done. The sixth inning, then the seventh. Still no hits allowed by Hamels. Within six outs of finishing off the gem, me and my 41,000 friends at Wrigley began nervously looking at each other. Were we really going to witness something that hadn’t been pulled off in 50 years? We notice that there seems to be an inordinate number of Philadelphia fans in Chicago. The applause gets exponentially louder with each out.
I remark to my friend that the game has lacked a trademark defensive play that characterizes most no-hitters, and almost on cue, catcher David Ross laces a line drive to the left-center field gap with Philly center fielder Odubel Hererra perfecting the art of fake hustle, running down the liner on the warning track, and plunging to the ground after making the catch for added effect. I’m not saying he was faking the difficulty of the catch; oh hell. Yes I am. But there is more to that story, as you will soon read.
The score is 5-0 Phillies. The Cubs have not shown any signs of life though they have made a couple of nice plays defensively. It is the bottom of the ninth inning. There have been a couple of balls the Cubs have squared up in the last inning as Hamels’ pitch count approaches 120. It’s a very warm, humid day at Wrigley, and one imagines that his arm must be noodle-like at this point of the game.
New Cubs messiah Kyle Schwarber pinch hits, and scalds a ball up the middle that Hamels reflexively snags and throws Schwarber out. Of course he does. One out. Dexter Fowler bats and grounds out unremarkably for out number two. Here comes the Cubs phenom Kris Bryant. Hamels has gotten 26 outs of 27, allowing only two walks. Only two baserunners.
On a 3 and 2 count, kid Kris launches a moonshot to center field. The aforementioned Hererra retreats to the warning track at the base of the wall, presumably planning the theatrics with which he will make the catch. He nearly miscalculates as the ball descends from the Wrigley Field sky. He falls forward with the ball settling into the leather, creating a cloud of dust that would have made Woody Hayes proud. If you don’t get the reference you are too young. The gem is complete in 129 pitches. After hundreds, maybe thousands of games, I’ve been witness to a no-hitter.
The Phillies gather on the field in rowdy celebration around Hamels. I snap photos with my phone hoping to preserve the snapshots of history that would surely escape me without technological assistance. I’m thankfully sober so the moments won’t elude my own consciousness.
Hamels doesn’t figure to make another start for the Phillies, sure to be dealt by Friday’s trade deadline. Perhaps to the Cubs. How ironic would that be? Or is it coincidental? I digress.
There have been more than 200,000 major league baseball games played. There have been 290 no-hitters. I’ll let you do the math if you care to. I know this. As a baseball fan, I’m very lucky to have witnessed history. As a Cub fan, I hope it’s at least another 50 years until they are no-hit again. And I hope I’m there to see it.