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A No-Hit Loss Is Turning Point To Cubs 2015 Season
- Updated: March 9, 2016
“Sometimes they say, it’s not what you achieve in life that defines you, it’s what you overcome…baseball offers a lot of those lessons”
– Carlton Fisk, Hall of Fame induction speech
On July 25, 2015, the Philadelphia Phillies’ lefty Cole Hamels pitched a no-hit, no-run game against the Cubs before a capacity crowd at Wrigley Field. For the improving but young home team chasing the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates, the loss was humiliating. The Phillies were out of contention, and opening day Manager Ryne Sandberg was already out of a job. Yet there was Hamels mowing down Chicago’s core of exciting young players and its sprinkling of veterans, and besting the Cubs emerging ace Jake Arrieta by a final score of 5-0.
This was the kind of loss that tests the mettle of a rebuilding team. Not only did Hamels throw a no-hitter, it was the first time in nearly 50 years that anyone had no-hit the Cubs, then the longest such streak in Major League Baseball (For the record, Sandy Koufax had been the last pitcher to twirl a no-no at the North Siders, on September 9, 1965). Hamels, the subject of endless trade rumors since late 2014, was on borrowed time with a last place team. He would be traded to the Texas Rangers within days of his record-erasing achievement.
In hindsight, the no-hitter – book-ended by Phillies victories in a weekend sweep – appeared to be the best thing that happened to the Cubs. The team had a respectable record of 51-45, trailing the St. Louis Cardinals by 11 1/2 games, but they essentially were playing .500 ball in June and July. After the whitewash, the Cubbies won 46 of their last 66 games, finishing in third place in the tough National League Central and winning the second Wild Card berth. In postseason play they eliminated the Pirates and the Division-winning Cardinals before collapsing against the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series.
Among the heroes: Arrieta, who put together an unbroken second half of quality starts, no-hit the Los Angeles Dodgers on their home turf on August 30, 2015, and won the Cy Young Award in a pick ’em race with Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. Starlin Castro also contributed to the Cubs second-half success. Manager Joe Maddon sat the slumping Dominican shortstop and then asked him to play second base (after, it was later rumored, an in-season trade for Ben Zobrist failed to materialize.) Castro rose to the occasion and enhanced his trade value by batting .353 with six home runs and 23 RBI over his final 31 games.
The no-hitter galvanized the entire Cubs team. By ending the impressive yet meaningless 49-year “no no-hitters” streak, the event opened the door to a new tradition: playing winning baseball. During the busy offseason, the Cubs traded the rejuvenated Castro to the New York Yankees for right-handed swing man Adam Warren and signed free agent Zobrist to a four-year deal. Cardinals star Jason Heyward signed an eight-year contract to join the Redbirds’ rival. John Lackey reunited with Jon Lester. Free agent Dexter Fowler put the Surprise in Arizona by walking into the first day of camp, two-year contract in hand.
Ryne Sandberg made the second journey of his career from Philadelphia to Chicago by joining the Cubs organization as a “Cubs Ambassador.” Not only did Arrieta win the Cy Young, Kris Bryant earned Rookie of the Year and Maddon took home Manager of the Year. A pennant was not to be, but some hardware for key contributors and a 4-5 postseason record was not bad for a team expected to be a year away from contention.
For professional athletes, adversity may plunge a team into free fall, or, as in this case, it provides a wake-up call. No doubt Chicago fans hope the memory of the sweep by the 2015 National League Champion Mets, painful as it is, will prove to be the next galvanizing force as the Cubs enter the 2016 campaign.
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