10/01/2003 8:29 PM ET
Hampton strikes back against Cubs
Ties postseason record with six straight strikeouts
ATLANTA -- Unofficially, Mike Hampton almost certainly set some sort of record when he opened Game 2 of the National League Division Series by throwing nine of his first 10 pitches for balls. The first five batters to face Hampton reached base, though one did so on a fielder's choice. The Cubs led the Braves, 2-0, before Hampton recorded an out.
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Then a funny thing happened on the way to a blowout. Hampton struck out Eric Karros with the bases loaded and nobody out. He struck out Ramon Martinez for the second out, and Damian Miller for the third.
Carlos Zambrano went down swinging to open the second inning, and Kenny Lofton and Mark Grudzielanek K'd for good measure. Hampton set a Division Series record with the six straight strikeouts, and tied a Major League postseason record.
And by the time the game was over, and the Braves had earned a 5-3 win, that record was the farthest thing from Hampton's mind.
"I don't think anybody really cared," he said. "I didn't. I was just trying not to give up any runs after the first because I knew it was gonna be tough to score off [Carlos] Zambrano."
Remarkably, Hampton accomplished exactly that. He lasted six innings, allowing only the two runs. Hampton helped prevent his team from falling into a nearly insurmountable 2-0 hole in the series.
"I said to myself, 'You know, you can stand out here and keep getting your brains beat in, or you can do something about it,'" Hampton said. "So I tried to make adjustments. I started throwing more cutters. It looked like they were sitting on the sinker away, so I started throwing the ball in a little bit more and it seemed to work."
He even stood to be the winning pitcher, had John Smoltz kept the Cubs off the board in the eighth. Not that he was complaining. Hampton had nothing but good things to say about Smoltz, an old playoff rival from the left-hander's days with the Astros and Mets.
"Knowing he's not 100 percent -- regardless if he says it or not -- for him to take the ball for two innings and endure what he has to endure, just says that much about his character and how much he wants to win," Hampton said.
The last pitcher to ring up six consecutive batters in a postseason game was the Cardinals' Todd Worrell in the 1985 World Series against Kansas City. Before that, it was Moe Drabowski for the Orioles in the 1966 World Series vs. the Dodgers, and the first to do it was Hod Eller for the Reds in the 1919 World Series against the White Sox.
Four times in the last century. Not bad.
"I'm not gonna strike people out like that all the time," Hampton said. "Very rarely does it happen. But [the Cubs] were pretty aggressive. They were trying to get to me early and I just tried to keep the ball out of the middle of the plate. My cutter was pretty good."
It was an amazing turnaround for Hampton. Eleven of the first 15 pitches he threw were balls -- and one of his four strikes was hit by Sammy Sosa for a double off the top of the very top of the wall in center field. After that, 25 of the next 32 pitches were strikes.
"We tried to calm him down," said catcher Javy Lopez. "That was just his first inning. Whatever happened in the first inning, you just leave it, as much as you can because we've got the rest of the game to come back. And that's what we did."
Sosa broke up the string of strikeouts with a single to lead off the third. Moises Alou singled, putting Hampton in trouble again, but Aramis Ramirez struck out and Karros hit into a double play.
After the first inning, only two more batters even reached second base against Hampton. One of his 18 outs came on a fly ball. He did exactly the job that was expected when Atlanta acquired him from the Rockies -- by way of the Marlins -- this offseason.
"I thought Hampton pitched one of his better games," said manager Bobby Cox. "Rule out the first inning, but the rest of it was pretty good. He was pretty much on the outstanding side."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.