Cubs right-hander Alec Mills was in a bit of a jam. The Cardinals had runners on second and third with only one out in the third inning.
If Mills was going to come through for his team in a must-win game, this was the time to make it happen. Relying on his slower-than-slow curveball, an impressive weapon, he popped up back-to-back big boppers in Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna.
On a tense Friday at Wrigley Field when manager Joe Maddon hoped to squeeze anywhere from three to — absolute best case — five innings out of him, Mills, a 27-year-old still largely unfamiliar to Cubs fans, delivered. He pitched 4‰ scoreless innings.
The Cubs lost 2-1, with the Cardinals scoring their runs after a pair of walks by reliever David Phelps in the sixth.
‘‘Embarrassing,’’ Phelps called it.
It’s doubtful struggling left-hander Cole Hamels, who was scratched from the start because of shoulder fatigue, would have done any better than Mills.
‘‘He was outstanding,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘He gave us everything we needed.’’
Mills was pleased with how he threw but reluctant to discuss that too much after such a damaging loss for the Cubs.
‘‘A win is all that matters — at this point, especially — so it’s frustrating,’’ he said.
But the Cubs’ core players were full of praise for Mills. On a fourth consecutive tough day, his performance was the bright spot.
‘‘Really nice to see him do that,’’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. ‘‘He’s a great, great guy. I’m happy for him. It’s just unfortunate we couldn’t get some pressure on [the Cardinals]. We just couldn’t get it done.’’
With only eight games to go and the Cubs’ postseason hopes waning, Mills stood up for his team.
‘‘Obviously, guys are upset, but it’s definitely not over,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t think there will be an ounce of quit in here. We’re just going to come tomorrow ready to play and go for a win.’’