CHICAGO -- The last time Cole Hamels pitched at Wrigley Field one year ago this month, he struck out 13 and no-hit the Cubs. On Sunday, it looked as if the left-hander was in the same groove, striking out the first six batters he faced. This time, Hamels didn't need to throw a no-hitter to get the win.
Robinson Chirinos drove in two runs and Ian Desmond hit a solo homer to back Hamels and lead the Rangers to a 4-1 Interleague victory. Hamels struck out seven and gave up four hits, including an RBI double by Javier Baez in the third, over eight innings. Desmond's home run was his first hit since the All-Star break.
"We've been trying to get this second half started out right, and we're playing a good team over there," Hamels said. "This is something where we just have to battle a little bit, but I think we're staying within ourselves and we're going to get back to our comfort zone. We're looking forward to getting back to that division play, and making the best of every game. "
This was a much-needed win for the Rangers, who have the most wins in the American League but had been struggling. This was their fourth win in the last 15 games. John Lackey took the loss, which snapped the Cubs' win streak at three. It was their first Interleague loss this season.
"They're good," Lackey said. "That's a first-place American League team, and they came in here, and this small ballpark played even smaller today. It was a good challenge. We've got to play well against whoever comes in."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Start me up: Lackey had an efficient nine-pitch first inning, but as the game progressed, he didn't agree with some of the calls by home-plate umpire Cory Blaser. Lackey exchanged words with Blaser after the sixth inning, and outfielder Jason Heyward stepped in to separate the two. Cubs manager Joe Maddon then had a long talk with Blaser. Lackey scattered six hits over eight innings, striking out eight.
Lackey said the discussion was between him and Blaser. Maddon quipped: "They were talking about Christmas cards for next year."
Fielder makes big play:Prince Fielder made only his ninth start at first base, but he made a game-changing play in the seventh after leadoff singles by Willson Contreras and Addison Russell. Heyward followed with a line shot that Fielder snagged just off the ground, then beat Russell to the bag for a double play. Hamels, holding a 3-1 lead, got out of the inning by getting Matt Szczur on a grounder back to the mound.
"That's a game changer in that particular moment," Maddon said of the double play. "That was kind of the turning point in the game."
Inspired baseball: After striking out the side in the first two innings, Hamels got Szczur to pop up to open the Chicago third. But Albert Almora Jr. reached on a fielding error by third baseman Adrian Beltre, and he scored one out later on Baez's double to left. Before the game, Maddon said he thought Baez would be "inspired" by batting in the leadoff position.
Almora heads off big inning: The Rangers struck first in the second inning, but Cubs center fielder Almora headed off a bigger rally. Texas took a 1-0 lead on leadoff singles by Fielder and Ryan Rua, and a one-out RBI single by Elvis Andrus.
With runners at the corners, Chirinos followed with a drive to deep left-center where Almora jumped to make the catch as he crashed into the ivy-decorated wall. Rua scored, but the Rangers had to settle for a 2-0 lead.
"That's a really good team. We won two out of three against a really good team. You had really good pitching, good starting pitching. You look at their lineup, and you look at those names and the numbers and what they're capable of, and they're a very good offensive club also. To take two out of three here post-break is pretty impressive. That's exactly what you're looking like in the postseason, those kind of teams." -- Maddon
"I like to give myself credit, but we're always going to give ourselves a hard time. When we get hits, it's always surprising. But it is exciting, because it's something that we don't really work on anymore. It's just another part for us to contribute, and I think it hopefully fires up our other hitters, too." - Hamels, on his second-inning single
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
• Hamels' strikeout flurry set a Rangers record for the start of a game. Texas' record for consecutive strikeouts in a game is seven, accomplished by Nolan Ryan on July 7, 1991, against the Angels. The Major League record for strikeouts to start a game is eight, held by Jim Deshaies -- currently the Cubs' television analyst -- and Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom.
• Sunday's game time of 2 hours and 17 minutes was the shortest at Wrigley Field since Aug. 19, 2013, when the Cubs played the Nationals in 2:14.
WHAT'S NEXT Rangers: Texas opens up a three-game series with the Angels at 9:05 p.m. CT on Monday in Anaheim. A.J. Griffin will start and is looking for his first win in five starts since coming off the disabled list June 25.
Cubs: All-Star Jon Lester will make his first start of the second half on Monday against the Mets at Wrigley. The lefty had his worst outing when he faced the Mets on July 3 in New York, giving up a season-high eight runs over a career-low 1 1/3 innings. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. CT.