Hammel keeps Bucs down in nearly spotless debut
Backed by Olt, Bonifacio, righty gives up one run on two hits in 6 2/3
PITTSBURGH -- The Cubs apparently play better on less sleep.
Mike Olt hit his first Major League home run to help Jason Hammel win his Cubs debut and post a 3-2 victory Thursday over the Pirates, giving Chicago manager Rick Renteria his first victory.
There was no beer shower or champagne bottle waiting for Renteria, but he was soaked because of the rain that started late in the game and drenched his lineup card and game notes.
"I was hoping the water would cleanse me a little bit," he said.
The win came after the Cubs opened with two extra-innings losses, including Wednesday's 16-inning marathon that ended shortly after 1 a.m. ET Thursday. It was a quick turnaround for the 12:35 p.m. start in the series finale. Cubs catcher John Baker was upset that there wasn't enough time after Wednesday's game to finish a movie he'd rented at the hotel.
"My movie expired before we got out of there," Baker said.
Don't tell him how "Wolverine" ended. He's still hoping to finish it at a later date.
Hammel would've liked a slightly different ending to his first Cubs start. He wanted to finish the game. The right-hander, who signed a one-year, $6 million deal in February, days before pitchers and catchers reported, held the Pirates to two hits over 6 2/3 innings, striking out five. The Cubs bullpen was short-handed because of the extra innings the night before.
"I was pretty surprised the way I was moving through the game," Hammel said. "I wanted to complete it and take it as far as I could have."
Hammel was at the team hotel and not at PNC Park for the end of Wednesday's game.
"I was the only guy well-rested -- maybe other than Wandy [Rodriguez, Pirates starter]," Hammel said. "But I didn't fall asleep. I turned the game on. I'm one of those guys, when I start watching something, I watch it all the way to the end. My wife watches a movie with me and watches the credits, and then falls alseep. I watch it to the end. It was definitely in my head that I had to get deep [in the game]."
Emilio Bonifacio can apparently fall out of bed and hit. He led off the game with a single, his 10th hit in his 13th at-bat, then stole second, and two outs later, scored on Anthony Rizzo's single.
"He's on fire and hopefully he continues," Renteria said of Bonifacio, now 11-for-16 for the season. "We're seeing a lot of guys have good at-bats. We had some balls hit well. We're on the right track."
Bonifacio remembers a hot streak like this when he played for the Marlins in 2009.
"I'm just swinging at strikes," he said. "That's the main difference."
Bonifacio doubled to open the third and scored one batter later when Justin Ruggiano grounded into a double play. When Bonifacio grounded out in the fifth, the crowd of 11,418 at PNC Park cheered. Finally.
"I was laughing -- it was funny," Bonifacio said. "That's part of the game."
The Pirates had walked Bonifacio in the 11th inning on Wednesday, only the third time he had been intentionally walked in his career.
"I told [catcher Russell] Martin, 'Really?' and he said, 'We can't get you out,'" Bonifacio said. "Even the umpire was laughing."
Olt, who hoped to continue his spring comeback story this season, made it 2-0 with a leadoff home run in the second off Rodriguez, hitting an opposite-field shot to right for his first big league homer. He showed exactly what the Cubs -- and most likely the Rangers -- were hoping for. Chicago acquired the third baseman last July; he'd struggled with vision problems, which apparently have cleared up.
"That ball, down and away, to hit it the other way with some power, it shows you the kind of thump he has in his stick," Renteria said of Olt.
"It's not that I go out there trying for [home runs]," Olt said, "but it was nice to get the first hit out of the way and that it happened to be a home run makes it a little sweeter."
The Pirates did not go quietly. With two outs in the the Pittsburgh seventh, Hammel walked Neil Walker and was lifted. Pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez doubled off James Russell, and Tony Sanchez singled to drive in both runners and close it to 3-2.
Pedro Strop picked up the save, but nearly wiped out Baker with a chest-to-chest collision on a popup by Gaby Sanchez in the ninth.
"We didn't want to go home 0-3," Bonifacio said. "We just played two really good games. This win was really important for us."
Friday will be the Cubs' home opener. Renteria has yet to see his office at Wrigley Field.
"It's not so much the eagerness to get there, but the season is moving forward, and it's going to be nice to be in our home ballpark," Renteria said. "It's going to be an exciting moment for all of us. Like I've said, it's still baseball."
And he can arrive with a smile at Wrigley.
"I didn't think it was going to be such a relief [to get the win], but it's quite a relief, quite honestly," Renteria said.