Lambert K's way into Rockies history, earns 'W'
Right-hander becomes first Colorado arm to K at least 9 in MLB debut
CHICAGO -- The pitcher showed up at Wrigley Field with a baby face, but that won’t be what the Cubs remember.
No, in their nightmares, they’re going to see the back of a purple Rockies jersey, with LAMBERT 23 stitched to the back.
Righty Peter Lambert showed up with his strikeout strut -- with each one, he would wheel and stride toward second base or the dugout, including four inning-ending K’s -- as if to say, Remember who I am. Lambert made Thursday memorable by striking out nine, a club record for a Major League debut, in a 3-1 victory as the Rockies salvaged a win in the three-game set.
Lambert, 22, called up from Triple-A Albuquerque after rising to No. 4 on the Rockies’ prospect list per MLB Pipeline, said that he wasn’t reacting to strikeouts in some kind of premeditated celebration. “It’s just on to the next hitter,” said Lambert, who also knocked the first pitch of his first at-bat into right field for a third-inning single off Jose Quintana (4-5).
Lambert spoke with a smile rather than with the deadpan of the famous football coach, Bill Belichick. But he approached his debut with a Belichickian matter-of-factness.
“I thought I’d go out there and feel the heart pumping at first, but I was all right from the start,” Lambert said.
He worked quickly (as veteran catcher Chris Iannetta noted, the thing to watch is working too rapidly, rather than slowing down when there’s trouble), showed his back a lot, and held the Cubs to one run on four hits and one walk over seven innings. Never did he feel stressed, but he never let himself believe he had the game locked.
“That never really jumped in my mind,” Lambert said. “This game will turn on you in a hurry. I just tried to get ahead of the hitters and get out one.”
Lambert had plenty of family in attendance, including his older brother, Jimmy, a pitcher for the White Sox Double-A Birmingham affiliate, who is listed on the seven-day injured list. He cooly put on a show for all.
“Stayed calm, stayed under control -- I mean, pitched, really pitched,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “That what we were saying on the bench. Fastball-change-breaking ball combo, behind the count changeups, high fastballs, fastballs down and away at the knees. It was great. That was cool for me.”
The Rockies need Lambert to keep being precocious. With Kyle Freeland retooling in Triple-A after a tough beginning and Tyler Anderson unavailable with a left knee injury, Lambert has gone from an exciting rotation depth piece to someone who has to be trusted in the rotation of a team expected to contend in the National League West.
Ian Desmond, who contributed an RBI double in the fourth, and tagged his second double in the seventh, said, “Peter threw the ball great. He looked really composed out there. He was working quick, was able to get us in and out of the dugout -- which was nice.”
Before the fourth, which also included David Dahl’s run-scoring single, Lambert had two strikeouts, including one of Quintana after the Cubs pieced the bases loaded in the second.
From there, the only considerable damage was Kris Bryant doubling with one out in the sixth and scoring on Javier Baez’s two-out single. Beyond that, it was mostly a strikeout strut. Lambert fanned the final four batters he faced. Black let Lambert hit after Iannetta’s RBI sacrifice fly in the seventh, and Lambert finished by striking out David Bote, Albert Almora Jr. and Daniel Descalso in the bottom of the inning.
Lambert accomplished the most strikeouts in a big league debut against the Cubs since the Reds’ Rob Bell on April 8, 2000.
“He was able to take the game he's been pitching in Triple-A and bring it to the big leagues -- that's what I was thinking during the game,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, whose team surprised Lambert by swinging aggressively, but could not dent him. “If you look at him more recently, I think he had like a 10-punchout performance in Vegas two or three starts ago. I would imagine it looked a lot like that.”