DENVER -- The Cubs and Rockies met for the sixth time in nine days Wednesday afternoon at Coors Field, and tensions nearly boiled over in Chicago’s 10-1 victory.
There were four hit batters in the contest, the first of whom was Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. Cubs starter Cole Hamels hit Arenado with a 90.5-mph fastball on the left forearm in the third inning, which raised Arenado’s ire and led to him leaving the game with a contusion.
“I don’t really have to explain what’s going on here,” Arenado said. “You guys all saw the games in Chicago. You saw them here. It’s just baseball. I just thought [the pitch] was a little high. … I don’t like to talk about what goes on on the field. It’s just on the field.”
When asked whether the plunking was retaliation for Rockies rookie right-hander Peter Lambert hitting Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant twice in Tuesday’s game, Hamels said, “Not that I know of.”
Bryant was also hit in the head by a German Marquez fastball on April 22, 2018, resulting in Bryant missing the next four games. Marquez hit him again last week at Wrigley Field before hitting Willson Contreras in the same inning.
When Hamels was informed about Arenado’s comments, he said he was “surprised” that Arenado would feel that way.
“I'm just trying to get guys out,” Hamels said. “Ultimately, we're just trying to win, and I know the damage he can do when he gets the ball out over the plate, so I'm just trying to pick a spot and unfortunately it went where it wasn't intended to go. You don't want to see that. You definitely don't want to see guys get injured.”
These two teams met in last year’s National League Wild Card Game, which the Rockies won, 2-1, in 13 innings on a Tony Wolters go-ahead single. Arenado hinted at what might be in store if they meet under similar circumstances this fall.
"If we play them again, it would be a pretty spicy series,” he said.
The tensions percolating beneath the surface overshadowed Hamels’ masterful performance. The veteran left-hander tossed seven scoreless innings while scattering six hits, walking one and striking out nine. He even picked up his first two hits of the season, singles in the second and fifth innings. He drove in two runs with his second hit.
Here’s a deeper dive into the two overarching themes of Wednesday’s eventful series finale between the two clubs.
Tensions run high, but don’t boil over
After Arenado left the game, reliever Bryan Shaw hit Hamels on the right ankle during a seventh-inning plate appearance.
“Trust me, the game of baseball is a fickle thing sometimes,” Hamels said. “You try to make pitches, and he was trying to make some pitches inside because I got a couple of hits on pitches away. It’s a cutter, so it’s going to move. It happened, it happened.”
In the eighth, rookie left-hander Phillip Diehl, in his second Major League appearance, hit Anthony Rizzo on the lower back.
The next batter, Javier Báez, took Diehl deep, depositing an 82-mph slider into the left-field seats 460 feet away from where Rizzo stood waiting to congratulate his teammate after he rounded the bases.
According to Statcast, Baez took 27.52 seconds to make that trip, 9.85 seconds of which were used to get around first base. Baez, who had a fastball sail high and inside toward him before Arenado was hit in the third, stood at home plate to watch his drive sail over the wall before beginning his trot.
“I would say he watched that one a little extra, which is nice,” Rizzo said. “As a team, when you think something is intentional and you get them back on that, it feels a little bit better. It's a big homer for us right there.”
In the ninth inning, reliever Brad Brach hit Wolters, who ended up scoring the only run of the game for Colorado.
For his part, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said that pitching inside is critical at Coors Field.
“I’m not going to accuse their guys of hitting [Bryant],” he said. “Everybody has the right to pitch inside. And some guys are going to get hit.
“Right now, we lead the league in getting hit by pitches [tied with the Mets at 36], and our guys go to first base … I always have a rule with my guys -- it’s not a rule, but as a hitter, you’ve got two options: Go to the mound or go to first base. But don’t sit there and jabber. Either one is fine, but you have two choices at that point. To this point, our guys have gone to first base and I respect that.”
Hamels was historic at Coors
Hamels hasn’t been on a run quite like this in five years.
By completely shutting down a hot Rockies lineup, he made it three straight starts without allowing an earned run, the first such streak for him since a three-start period between June 6 and June 16, 2014.
He also became only the fourth opposing pitcher in the history of Coors Field to go at least seven scoreless innings while striking out nine or more batters. The last was also a Cubs hurler, John Lackey, who accomplished the feat on May 9, 2017.
Hamels cites two factors behind his recent dominance.
“Really just trying to make a mechanical change that I think was not allowing me to utilize the pitches that I have with effectiveness,” Hamels said. “With making that change, I’m able to now get the right results. The pitches are doing exactly what I hope they’ll do with the intention to establish all parts of the zone, and with the hard and soft [pitches] too.
“I also think I’ve been able to watch the teams before I got to pitch to them, so I could take better notes and kind of go from there. I’ve benefited from the timing.”
Hamels has seen plenty of the Rockies from the bench over the past week, watching fellow starters attack Colorado hitters in three games at Wrigley Field last week and two games prior to Wednesday’s at Coors Field.
Hamels entered the contest with a 3.79 ERA over six career starts at Coors. He was given an early lead thanks to a five-run second inning in which Kyle Schwarber launched a 432-foot shot into the second deck in right-center field. But he didn’t take that for granted. Not in this altitude.
“Five runs here is like a one-run ballgame,” Hamels said. “That’s just kind of the case where I understood what was at stake, that I just could not give up runs. … It was about trying to stay a little bit out of their happy zone and trying to make it work.”
Hamels is turning back the clock at a time when Chicago’s starting rotation is rounding into form, with All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel soon joining the bullpen.
“It’s not easy to pitch like that here,” Maddon said. “You have to get ahead in counts and have put-away pitches or stuff that elicits weak contact. I thought today his cutter was really sharp, and so was the changeup off of that.
“What he did today -- he’s spry, he’s running around the bases all day, he pitches seven strong. A great, great outing.”