09/14/2003 5:11 PM ET
Reds get Hall pass from Cubs
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Josh Hall left Wrigley Field with no decision. But from an individual perspective, his effort was clearly a triumph.
Hall, making his third Major League start, hurled a career-high seven shutout innings Sunday as the Reds outlasted the Chicago Cubs, 1-0. The 22-year-old right-hander, who spent most of the season at Double-A Chattanooga, amassed eight strikeouts, another personal best.
Hall, who yielded seven hits and walked two, ended a 20-game streak in which no Reds starter had pitched into the seventh inning. He provided an essential respite for Cincinnati's bullpen, which had grown taxed as a result of the starters' lack of durability.
Hall's gem was a mild surprise, given the 9.00 ERA he had recorded before this game. But he displayed a veteran's polish by defusing a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the sixth inning and striking out Sammy Sosa with two runners aboard to end the seventh.
Hall's performance had considerable short-term impact. Combined with Russell Branyan's ninth-inning RBI single off luckless Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano, it left Chicago (79-70) two games behind first-place Houston in the National League Central Division.
"If I can be a spoiler, so be it. I just wanted to pitch well," Hall said.
The potential long-term significance of Hall's outing was equally apparent. Should he sustain or even approach this kind of competence in his upcoming starts, he'll enter 2004 as a leading candidate to join the rotation for the pitching-starved Reds.
"If he gives us more of what we saw today, I don't think he needs a whole lot more (minor league seasoning)," Reds pitching coach Don Gullett said. "But consistency is the key ... It was a great learning experience for him to reflect back on today and learn what he has to do to be successful."
Said Reds interim manager Dave Miley, "I definitely think he would get a look. I don't know how it's going to play out, but we know what we have in the organization. That's a definite plus right there."
Hall seemed to understand the greater meaning of his effort.
"It gives me a lot of confidence going into next year," he said. "It lets me know that I can be here and I should be here."
Hall's defining moment was his 108th and final pitch, the 1-2 curveball that Sosa flailed at with Mark Grudzielanek on first base, Kenny Lofton on second and two outs in the seventh inning. Though reliever John Riedling was ready to enter the game, Miley allowed Hall to face the formidable Sosa.
"It was a gut-check," Hall said of his confrontation with the Cubs slugger. "I needed that. I said, 'This is it, it's do or die and I'm going to go right at him just like I've gone at everybody all day.' That's what makes you or breaks you. If you get into situations like that, you've got to be able to get out of them. If you can't, then you're going to be out of the game."
Miley admitted that he considered removing Hall. "But this kid deserved to be out there. He had pitched his butt off," Miley said. "We felt like he deserved a chance to try to get out of it."
Hall, who allowed six runs and 10 hits in four-plus innings against Pittsburgh in his previous outing last Tuesday, initially looked vulnerable. Lofton singled leading off the first inning and Sosa singled one out later. Hall recovered by fanning Moises Alou and Aramis Ramirez.
They were the first pair of 10 consecutive Cubs retired by Hall, who didn't allow another runner to reach second base until the sixth. Grudzielanek's single to center field opened the inning. Alou singled one out later. Ramirez grounded out to third base on a 3-2 pitch as the runners broke, leaving Cubs on second and third with two outs. This prompted the Reds to walk Randall Simon intentionally before Alex Gonzalez's grounder to third forced Alou.
"Keeping the ball down, changing speeds, mixing it up, being able to throw something other than fastballs when behind on the count -- that's what pitching's all about," said Gullett, describing how Hall subdued the Cubs.
Hall readily admitted that the Cubs' unfamiliarity with him may have enhanced his effectiveness. "Absolutely," he said. "I don't think they had a whole lot to go on."
Zambrano (13-10), who owns an 0.74 ERA in 10 career appearances against the Reds, actually outdid Hall for eight innings, surrendering three hits. But he waited an extra 13 minutes to start the ninth inning after umpire Steve Rippley left the game with a headache and Jerry Meals needed time to don a mask and chest protector. Rippley was shaken up when a Zambrano pitch bounced in the dirt and smacked him in his facemask with Ray Olmedo batting in the sixth inning.
Zambrano walked Olmedo leading off the ninth, the only free pass he issued all afternoon. Olmedo moved to second base on Tim Hummel's sacrifice bunt and reached third on a wild pitch. But Olmedo stayed put as D'Angelo Jimenez grounded out with the infield playing shallow.
Zambrano fell behind 3-1 on Branyan, who blooped the next pitch into shallow center field to score Olmedo and give Cincinnati (64-85) its Major League-leading 29th victory in its last at-bat.
Asked if the delay affected Zambrano, Cubs catcher Paul Bako said, "I think that would be nitpicking. ... He made a great pitch on Branyan. He broke his bat in a couple pieces and the ball landed where we weren't. We didn't score and we didn't give him any support today."
Indeed, the Cubs didn't come close to rallying late, as Riedling (2-3) pitched a perfect eighth and Chris Reitsma worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his ninth save.
While Riedling and Reitsma officially shared the credit, everybody in the Reds' clubhouse knew that the afternoon's glory belonged to Hall.
"A win would have been nice," he said. "But I'll take it."
"It was a gut-check. I needed that. I said, 'This is it, it's do or die and I'm going to go right at him just like I've gone at everybody all day.' That's what makes you or breaks you. If you get into situations like that, you've got to be able to get out of them. If you can't, then you're going to be out of the game."
-- Pitcher Josh Hall
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.