CHICAGO -- At 24, Steven Matz has more of a future than a past in the big leagues, quite the opposite of his scheduled counterpart in Game 4 of the NLCS, the Cubs' Jason Hammel.
The latter is nine years older, has pitched for five times as many teams and was traded just last season by the team that will be counting on him Wednesday night.
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No, really: In July 2014 he was sent to the Athletics in a deal that brought shortstop Addison Russell to Chicago. Five months later, he re-signed with the Cubs as a free agent.
Now this. Will it be the biggest start of his life?
"This is every question I get for all the playoff games," he said Tuesday before Game 3, with a mixture of bemusement and annoyance. "Obviously, the games at this point of the year are all very important."
OK, but how about an answer? "Of my life?" he said. "Obviously, the deeper you get in the playoffs, yeah. I guess you could say that they're the most difficult in my life. But honestly, I'm not really worried about that."
Cubs fans presumably are worried, though. Hammel's resume is a far cry from those of Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, who started (and lost) Games 1 and 2.
In the regular season, he was 10-7 with a 3.74 ERA. (He never has won more than 10 regular-season games in a career that dates to 2006.)
Hammel started Game 4 of the NLDS, the Cubs' clincher against the Cardinals. He went three innings, allowing three hits, three walks and two runs.
But with the Cubs trailing 2-0 in the second inning, manager Joe Maddon let him bat, and he delivered a run-scoring single. He hit .169 in the regular season.
"Probably the best hit of my career," Hammel said. "But I'm not paid to hit. I'm paid to pitch, and that's what I'm prepared to do."
Speaking of which, Hammel has a knack for inducing ground balls, which is a good thing at Wrigley Field when the wind is blowing out.
"I think it's kind of convenient that you walk out of the dugout and the first thing you see are the flags," he said. "Whether they're blowing in or out, you can take note. But the game plan for every outing at Wrigley Field should be hitting the ball in the zone, quality strikes in the lower half of the zone."
Based on that game against the Cardinals and on the precarious state the Cubs are in, Maddon will not hesitate to yank Hammel early if necessary.
"Obviously, the 'W' is the bottom line," Hammel said. "Whether it's seven innings or three innings, like it was for me last time, the game plan is to win . . . I want to finish what I've started, so I'm thinking complete-game shutout. But things obviously change midgame, and those are very rare. I'm going to prepare to be out there as long as I can."