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Hammel: Fastball command yielding results

CHICAGO -- How do you beat Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke on back-to-back nights? You have to pitch better than the Dodgers aces, which is what the Cubs did.

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On Monday, six Chicago pitchers combined for a Cubs victory over Kershaw, and on Tuesday, Jason Hammel threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings but did not get a decision in the Cubs' 1-0, 10-inning win.

For Hammel, it was his fourth career start of at least seven innings with two or fewer hits allowed. He's now 2-0 with a 2.01 ERA in his last five starts. The difference? Fastball command, Hammel said.

"He was really good from the very first moment of the game," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the right-hander.

Hammel struck out Yasiel Puig on three pitches to start the game, and retired the first six batters before Alberto Callaspo doubled to lead off the third. Hammel retired the next 11 in a row before Puig tripled with two outs in the sixth, although both center fielder Matt Szczur and right fielder Mike Baxter appeared to lose the ball in the lights.

The Cubs now are nine games over .500 for the first time since Aug. 4, 2009, and have won four in a row. They've given up two or fewer runs in the last four games. And they've now beaten Kershaw and Greinke in consecutive games.

"That's got to give you some kind of confidence that you can do it against the best," Maddon said. "You have to pitch better than good pitching, and we did it two nights in a row. That's the key to the whole thing. We pitched so well and played defense so well and were able to muster enough runs to win both games."

Hammel knows Cubs fans are giddy at the possibility of playoff baseball at Wrigley Field.

"We've got three months to go," Hammel said. "We're playing good ball right now. I know everybody in [the clubhouse] would like a little more time to catch their breath in some of those innings -- we play nothing but one-run ballgames. It just shows the character. We don't quit, we just keep coming."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.
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