Cubs' 15-hit attack polishes Hammel's gem

Cubs' 15-hit attack polishes Hammel's gem

ST. LOUIS -- Any chance the Cardinals had of rolling over momentum from their series-opening walk-off win evaporated before they could send their first batter to the plate on Tuesday, as the Cubs opened the night with a six-run first and then cruised to a 12-3 victory that evened the three-game set at Busch Stadium.

The Cubs sent 10 batters to the plate in the opening frame against Cardinals starter Michael Wacha, who walked home a run and allowed five hits in the 36-pitch inning. He was so shaky that manager Mike Matheny had Tyler Lyons begin warming up before Wacha had recorded his second out. Two-run doubles by David Ross and Jason Hammel -- the first of which center fielder Randal Grichuk nearly caught to keep the deficit at two -- punctuated the first six-run first inning the Cubs posted against the Cardinals since 1994.

The Cubs' offense had been slowed in two games against the Giants and in the first game of this series, but not on Tuesday.

"It's a 162-game season," Hammel said. "We don't hit the panic button when we don't score runs or don't pitch. It's part of the whole ebb and flow of the season. We're not robots, and we can't do it all the time. You're going to run into some good teams. We never panic, and we're going game by game, and tonight we had a good one."

The Cardinals never threatened to climb back into the game, either, as they were charged with nearly as many errors (two) as they tallied hits (four) against Hammel. Hammel pitched a season-high 7 1/3 innings, kept the Cardinals from advancing a runner to third until allowing a run in the eighth and improved to 6-1 on the season. He has limited the Cardinals to two runs on nine hits in 13 1/3 innings at Busch Stadium this year.

Wacha, on the other hand, remains in a tailspin. Chased after allowing Jorge Soler's two-run blast, Wacha has not recorded an out beyond the fourth inning in any of his last three starts. With a career-most eight runs allowed on Tuesday, he has given up 20 runs (16 earned) over his last three outings.

Wacha describes arm as 'dragging' after loss

"It was a pretty discouraging start," said Wacha, the first Cardinals pitcher since Mike Maroth (2007) to allow six or more runs in three straight starts. "It [stinks] right now. I have to keep going with it, got to keep working hard and then figure it out."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Start me up: Hammel got an at-bat before he even took the mound, as the Cubs sent 10 batters to the plate in the first and opened a 6-0 lead. Kris Bryant hit an RBI single, Soler drew a bases-loaded walk, and Ross and Hammel each hit a two-run double. The Cubs began the day ranked fourth in the Majors in batting average with the bases loaded and added to those numbers with Ross' hit. Hammel now has five RBIs for the season, a career high.

"I think [a 6-0 lead in the first] makes every pitcher better," Hammel said. "It's nice to have room for error. That's what run support does. I took my first swing before I threw my first pitch. It was nice and a good bounceback from [Monday]." More >

Hammel's two-run double

Diaz's dandy defense: Aledmys Diaz, who has shouldered criticism for his defensive play, turned in the team's defensive highlight of the season with an incredible catch in left field to start an unorthodox 6-4-3 double play. According to Statcast™, Diaz covered 91.9 feet and reached a top speed of 20.2 mph to chase Anthony Rizzo's fly ball. After making the over-the-head grab, Diaz doubled Bryant off first to end the second inning.

"I think it's just part of the game," Diaz said, downplaying his gem. "I've never practiced that before, though." More >

Statcast: Diaz's fantastic catch

Soler power: Soler is still developing as a hitter, and he went 0-for-6 in his last two games. He drew walks in his first two at-bats -- a personal season high -- including one with the bases loaded in the first, then, in the fifth, he belted his fourth home run, a two-run shot, which chased Wacha. The three RBIs for Soler are a season high -- he had two in his previous 28 games.

"When you're walking, you're hitting," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "When you're not expanding your strike zone, you have a much better chance. That's what his DNA indicates -- when you're young and get a little eager or anxious, you come out of what you normally do. Now we're trying to get him back to constructing the strike zone once again. He does really well when he does that."

Soler's two-run homer

Off-center: Wacha might have gotten out of the first inning with only two runs allowed had Grichuk been able to snare Ross' double to center. Instead, Grichuk, one night after connecting for the first walk-off homer of his career, let the ball nick off his glove for a two-out, two-run double. Two more runs scored while Grichuk chased down Hammel's two-base hit, which could have been a single had Grichuk been more efficient with his route.

"It just carried more than I thought it would," Grichuk said. "I was [playing] in a little bit more than normal, then I just looked up, looked at the wall and tried to pick [the ball] up. I just kind of misjudged the hand, the arm."

Ross' two-run double

QUOTABLE
"I think our starting pitchers would be the first to make [the] statement that we haven't been able to make that run that we need to [in order to] do what we need to do as a club. This starts with our starting pitching." -- Matheny, whose club now has a rotation ERA of 4.45

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Ross' double was his 500th career hit, but he wasn't aware of the milestone. He entered the game with 499 career hits and 99 career homers.

"I only had to play how many years to get that?" said Ross, who is retiring at the end of this season. "Some of these guys will have [500 hits] in three years. ... Homers are way cooler."

REPLAY REVIEW
In the Chicago ninth, Addison Russell was called out at first after hitting a ground ball to second baseman Kolten Wong. The Cubs challenged the call, and after a review, the call was overturned and Russell was safe. Maddon felt it was a key play.

"That validates running hard to first base," said Maddon, whose mantra is "Respect 90."

"Two things could happen there -- maybe [Russell] could hit .300 because of that play, but more than anything, if our Minor League players are watching, they see the validation of running hard to first base all the time," Maddon said. "[Bryant] had done it in his previous at-bat. My takeaway from the whole night is that."

Russell earns a single

WHAT'S NEXT
Cubs: Right-hander Jake Arrieta will make his 10th start of the season in the series finale on Wednesday. The Cubs have won each of his last 22 starts, a franchise record. Arrieta leads the Majors with a 1.29 ERA and a .153 opponents' batting average. First pitch is scheduled for 12:45 p.m. CT.

Cardinals: Carlos Martinez will look to snap his four-game losing streak on Wednesday when he starts the rubber game of the series. The Cardinals, though, won all five of his previous starts against Chicago.

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Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.