Hamels loses key duel, game vs. Yelich

Lefty gives up full-count, three-run homer as Cubs fall

September 7th, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- Cole Hamels strolled off the mound, walking in the direction of second base as he tugged at his sleeves. The Cubs' veteran glared skyward, while Christian Yelich trotted around the bases following another home run for his National League Most Valuable Player Award candidacy.

Hamels vs. Yelich. It was a matchup built for the October stage. In the meantime, their battle on Friday night at Miller Park was layered with potential postseason implications. The Cubs are trying to chase down the Cardinals for first in the NL Central, while the Brewers attempt to catch Chicago in the Wild Card picture.

"The at-bat by Yelich kind of flipped the whole thing," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after his team's 7-1 loss to the Brewers. "I really liked the way Cole was looking to that point. And it just went away quickly."

Really, what went away when Yelich swatted his three-run homer in the third inning was a chance for the Cubs to gain ground on the NL Central-leading Cardinals.

Chicago remains 2 1/2 games back of St. Louis and two games behind the Nationals for the top NL Wild Card spot. The Cubs have a 2 1/2-game lead over the D-backs for the second Wild Card. In a crowded Wild Card field, the Brewers pulled within four games of the Cubs with the Mets and Phillies also in the fray.

The veteran Hamels -- a key piece to a Cubs rotation that does not lack in question marks with three weeks to go -- lasted only 3 1/3 innings in the loss to Milwaukee. The left-hander gave up nine hits, including eight in a span of 12 batters before being pulled from the game. Hamels allowed five runs, including three via Yelich's 44th homer of the year.

"He's been good. If you watch him, he's patient," Hamels said. "He's looking for pitches. I don't know if he was necessarily looking for that pitch, but he's good enough to be able to do what he did with it."

The pitch in question was a full-count changeup at the bottom of the zone. As with any pitch, there was a path that led Hamels and catcher Victor Caratini to make that specific call at that specific moment, when the Brewers had runners on first and second with no outs.

Hamels only gave Yelich cutters and changeups in their meeting in the third inning. The pitcher was careful not to stray too far into the zone with anything.

First, Hamels fired an elevated, 87-mph cutter that Yelich took for strike one. The next two pitches were changeups. One was far inside for a ball and the other was low-and-inside and Yelich fouled it off. Pitch No. 4 was an 86-mph cutter, up and away and just north of the zone. Yelich also fouled that one off to keep the count at 1-2.

"He’s comfortable throwing any pitch in any count," Yelich said. "We’ve faced each other a lot -- probably 30ish times, maybe more. So it’s not really any secrets about what I do or what kind of pitches he has. It’s just a matter of executing and battling."

Entering the night, Hamels had limited Yelich to a .250 average and just one home run in 32 at-bats. That previous blast came on an inside two-seamer back on July 25, 2017. Yelich saw a pair of inside two-seamers from Hamels in the game -- one in the first inning and one in the fourth -- and both resulted in singles.

During their third-inning confrontation, the fifth and sixth pitches were important in influencing the seventh, decisive offering. First, Hamels went with a changeup away and below the zone for the 1-2 pitch. Yelich did not bite, taking the pitch for a ball. That reaction convinced Hamels to then send a cutter to the outer edge.

"He took a really good changeup that I was throwing away," Hamels said. "I was really just trying to get a ground ball. So, I think in that situation, the [cutter that ran the count to] 3-2, I threw a pitch that obviously I thought he would've at least gone for and that would've at least let me know what he was looking for."

Yelich took that pitch, too. Hamels looked frustrated with the call on the mound.

"It's a ball," Hamels said. "He's one of the best hitters. He has a really good eye, and you can't be there in that situation trying to beg for a strike. You just have to keep executing."

Hamels returned to his signature offspeed offering -- the changeup -- and put it right at the bottom of the strike zone.

"I felt like with something that had a little bit less velocity on it," Hamels said, "[he] probably would've topped it and then would've gotten two outs, guy on third. Or, he would've moved the runners over, but at least I've got an out and I've got something to work with."

Instead, Yelich lowered his body as he swung and drove the pitch out to right-center field. That erased the solo shot launched by Nicholas Castellanos a half-inning earlier, gave the Brewers a 3-1 lead and sent Hamels on a downward spiral that chased him from the game in the fourth.

"Sometimes it's a battle," Hamels said. "And you'd rather it be a battle against the other team, as opposed to internally against yourself."