Hammel, Cubs send Tanaka to first big league loss
Chicago righty battles into sixth; bats come through in key spots in win
CHICAGO -- On Tuesday night, the Cubs became the first team to face Masahiro Tanaka twice in the big leagues. They also are the first to beat the Yankees' pitcher in 43 regular-season starts between the U.S. and Japan.
Rookie Mike Olt drove in three runs, and Emilio Bonifacio and Starlin Castro each added RBI singles to lift the Cubs to a 6-1 Interleague victory over the Yankees and hand Tanaka his first regular-season loss since Aug. 19, 2012.
"We really executed," Cubs catcher John Baker said. "Me and [Jason] Hammel were joking that Floyd Mayweather may lose now. We beat the Mayweather of baseball today."
Mayweather, in case you don't know, is a professional boxer who is unbeaten in 46 fights.
When Chicago faced Tanaka on April 16 at Yankee Stadium, he struck out 10 over eight shutout innings. What were the Cubs looking for this time?
"That split," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said prior to the game Tuesday. "[Hitters] see it as a fastball, and it ends up dropping off the table. Obviously, he's been a championship pitcher in Japan. There's no surprise that he has the poise, and obviously, his stuff is really good."
What the Cubs wanted was to get Tanaka to throw up in the zone.
"That split comes in at the knee or above the knee, lower thigh, and it looks like a really good pitch," Renteria said. "You have to make him get the ball up. He's a guy you have to try to force to see if you can make him throw a lot of pitches."
It worked. Tanaka had gone 42 consecutive starts without a regular-season loss, and this was his first defeat since he was pitching for the Rakuten Golden Eagles. The four runs off the right-hander were the most he's given up this season.
"We watched a lot of video," Baker said, "and saw him striking out a lot of the best hitters in baseball and making people look foolish, and a lot of us here already had that experience, swinging and laughing and looking in the dugout, like 'What the heck was that pitch?'"
Tanaka didn't think the Cubs had an edge.
"I don't look at it that way," he said. "I think all my pitches, they went to locations which were easy for the batters to hit."
Was he proud of his unbeaten streak?
"Yes," Tanaka said. "I think I was able to get the streak going because I had support from my teammates. I'm a little bit disappointed, because I think a lot of the fans were looking for me to keep on winning. Next time out, I'll try to get a win again and try to keep it going again."
Instead, Hammel picked up the win, although the game did not start well for him. He deflected a comebacker by leadoff man Brett Gardner off his right hand in the first. Hammel stayed in the game, although his first warmup pitch sailed over Baker.
"That was an 'Oh no' moment," Baker said of the pitch. "As a catcher, I've been hit in the same spot on the hand, and I saw where it was, and I didn't think it would affect him too much."
Hammel admitted that the first warmup pitch did scare him a little, and gradually his hand became stiff and sore. The right-hander did have trouble handling his breaking ball, but otherwise, no problems.
"He gave a gutty performance and pitched great," Baker said.
Hammel gave up one run on four hits and one walk over 5 2/3 innings, striking out six in front of 38,753 at Wrigley Field. He signed in February with the Cubs, who had actively pursued Tanaka. The Yankees won the bidding, signing the Japanese pitcher for seven years and $155 million. Hammel signed for one year and $6 million.
"It just goes to show that sometimes you don't have to go out and spend all the money to get that superstar player," Baker said. "Sometimes they're lying in wait. He flies under the radar.
"The experiences I've had with him and comparing him to some of the front-line guys I've caught in the past, like Josh Johnson, [Hammel] is a guy who, when you go out to the field, regardless of who you're playing against, you feel like he's going to give you a chance to win the game, and he's done that every single start this year."
Maybe rain is Tanaka's Kryptonite. As rain started to fall at Wrigley, the Cubs were able to total as many hits in the third inning as they did against Tanaka last month. Baker singled to lead off the third, moved up on Hammel's sacrifice, and scored on Bonifacio's single.
Luis Valbuena doubled to lead off the fourth, and one out later, scored on Olt's single to make it 2-0. Valbuena went 0-for-3 in New York against Tanaka, and is the first player to get three hits off Tanaka in a single game.
"I had more of an idea," Valbuena said.
Mark Teixeira made it 2-1 with two outs in the Yankees' sixth with a RBI single. But the Cubs added runs in the sixth on sacrifice flies by Olt and Baker. Castro added an RBI single in the seventh.
"To see him at least twice does help," Olt said about facing Tanaka. "He definitely had some great stuff today, too. We were able to get some stuff up in the zone and do something with it."
This is only the Yankees' third trip to Wrigley Field since the 1938 World Series. There's a mystique to the team, but Renteria, whose Cubs have the worst record in the Majors, tried to keep things in perspective.
"We're looking at playing our opponents, and when we step between the lines, there are big names out there," Renteria said. "Guys come up and they're in awe -- but I want these guys to see that's a shortstop, that's a second baseman, that's a first baseman, that's a third baseman [on the Yankees]. We know what they can do, what they can't do. We have to play our best game against their best game, and see where it falls."
On Tuesday, the Cubs played the best.