Alec Mills shined in just his third start of the season, striking out three in pitching five shutout innings during the Chicago Cubs’ 2-0 win in the series finale against the Miami Marlins on Sunday at Wrigley Field.
“Millsy gave us five good ones, clean ones,” Cubs manager David Ross said.
Mills was backed by strong defense, the Cubs’ reliable bullpen and an offense that showed it didn’t need to lean on the long ball, scoring the first of its two runs without so much as a hit.
“It feels great after the last two games against these guys,” Javier Báez said. “They’ve been … swinging the bat well. These last three games we haven’t hit that much, but we compete.
“Today was a busy day playing defense, which I love.”
Jason Heyward led off the third inning with a walk, moved to third on Joc Pederson’s fielder’s choice and scored on Marlins catcher Jorge Alfaro’s passed ball.
In the fifth inning, Patrick Wisdom pinch-hit for Heyward against left-handed reliever Ross Detwiler and worked a 3-2 count on a 15-pitch at-bat before singling on a hard-hit one-hopper that gave shortstop Miguel Rojas trouble.
It tied Jon Jay’s single off Milwaukee’s Brandon Woodruff on Sept. 22, 2017, for the longest Cubs at-bat to end with a hit since at least 1988.
“Pinch-hitting is one of the harder things to do in this game,” Ross said. “It’s just another part of how he’s been helping us out since he’s been here. It’s not always the homers; he’s had a lot of deep-count at-bats, he’s a guy that grinds when he gets in there.
“You see the intent. It felt like from my seat that he was just not going to get out. He was going to refuse to get out. That mindset goes a long way, sparks the club, sparks the fans. … That was definitely a big turning point for us in the game.”
Jake Marisnick, pinch-hitting for Mills, moved Wisdom to second, and Pederson singled off Detwiler to plate Wisdom.
The Cubs will take any level of success piecing together runs, but the story of the afternoon was Mills.
Mainly a long reliever earlier this season, Mills threw 49 strikes on 77 pitches with no walks Sunday.
Báez made a spectacular defensive play to back Mills in the second inning, diving to grab Jon Berti’s grounder out of the air and spinning to force out Alfaro at second.
“Javy made a couple jaw-dropping plays there,” Mills said. “I don’t think we should ever be surprised but at the same time that was unbelievable, that was a game-changer for me, got out of an inning. Probably would have been a first-and-third situation.”
The highlight for Mills came in the third inning with Marlins on first and second at Adam Duvall at the plate — the same Duvall who terrorized the Cubs for four home runs and 10 RBIs over the previous two games.
Mills fought through a 3-2 count and struck Duvall out on a foul tip.
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“Obviously what he’s done the last two days speaks for itself,” Mills said. “I think for me endgame for me was that fastball in there, what I got him with. But it was one of those things where he was swinging at the slider.
“I think more or less I just wanted to get him in swing mode before I went back in for that.”
Ross added: “I thought (Mills) moved the ball around really well, I thought he changed speeds nicely. Limited the damage, held runners really nicely today.”
After Mills left, the bullpen coasted through the remaining four innings, allowing no hits and striking out five.