Few events could upstage the classic pitchers’ duel waged by Cubs left-hander Cole Hamels and Nationals ace Max Scherzer on Sunday night at Wrigley Field.
But David Bote did the trick.
Pinch-hitting with the bases loaded and two outs, Bote launched a two-strike grand slam to propel the Cubs to a stunning 4-3 victory against the Nats.
The homer to straightaway center field — followed by an epic bat flip — sent the crowd of 36,490 and Bote’s teammates into bedlam.
“When you round those bases and we got the ‘W’ and I’m seeing my teammates at home plate jumping around because we got the win, it’s just magical,” Bote said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling. It couldn’t happen to a better team, a better group of people in that clubhouse that I’m so blessed and honored to be a part of.”
Bote became the first Cub to hit a pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam since Earl Averill did it against the Milwaukee Braves on May 12, 1959. Making it even more special was that it backed a marvelous pitching performance from Hamels, who was making his Wrigley Field debut in a Cubs uniform.
Hamels yielded one run and one hit, walked one and struck out nine, and at one point, he retired 18 Nationals in order before being lifted in the top of the eighth after throwing 98 pitches, 61 for strikes. He had to be that good because Scherzer also was dealing.
“Anytime you go up against Scherzer or [Stephen] Strasburg over there in Washington, it’s going to be a tough battle,” Hamels said. “You can’t give in, and you have to be able to control the game. Being here in Wrigley, getting the fans behind you and getting that momentum gives you a little bit of a jolt of energy that you can use.”
No jolt was bigger than Bote’s blast.
“This is the ultimate excitement,” said Hamels, who is 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA in three starts with the Cubs since being acquired in a trade with the Rangers on July 27. “It’s the thing that when you’re a kid in the backyard and you’re visualizing trying to win games, it’s always bases loaded, you’re down by three and you’re trying to hit the grand slam.
‘‘For Bote to be able to do it, what a way to be able to experience that.”
Almost lost in the excitement was the effort from Scherzer. He threw seven scoreless innings, allowing three hits with one walk and 11 strikeouts. Scherzer at one point mowed down 14 Cubs in order before departing after 106 pitches, 71 for strikes.
“Those guys threw an unbelievable game,” Bote said. “That was incredible to watch. Just the precision, the execution [on] both sides. That was a great game to be a part of. Hats off to Hamels, hats off to Scherzer.”
Ultimately, hats off to Bote, who helped the Cubs rally after it appeared the Nationals had put the game away with two runs in the ninth inning off reliever Brandon Kintzler.
But the Cubs didn’t quit.
Jason Heyward singled with one out, Albert Almora Jr. was hit by a pitch from reliever Ryan Madson, and an out later, Willson Contreras also was plunked with a pitch to load the bases. Bote then laced a 2-2 fastball from Madson 442 feet into the night.
“It was a really boring game, wasn’t it?” manager Joe Maddon said with tongue planted firmly in cheek. “It was low-scoring, no hits, probably a little bit over three hours. It was really an awful game to be viewed late at night on the East Coast.”