With one swing, Kris Bryant changed the entire mood around Wrigley Field, Cubs fans jumping up and down in the bleachers late Monday night.
Bryant flipped his helmet into the air after rounding third base, heading toward the mosh pit at home plate, where the Cubs waited to celebrate a dramatic 9-8 win over the Colorado Rockies.
Bryant had just beaten Rockies closer John Axford with two outs in the ninth inning, crushing a cutter over the left-center field wall for a two-run homer that scrubbed away a bullpen mess and kept the Cubs within 2.5 games of the San Francisco Giants for the second wild card.
“It just wakes us up a little bit,” Bryant said. “I think we were kind of nonchalant the last couple games – myself included.”
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To stay relevant this summer, the Cubs (52-46) need to take advantage of this 10-game stretch against the National League’s three last-place teams, which began by getting swept by the Philadelphia Phillies over the weekend, creating more questions about a young team’s focus and maturity.
Bryant made the 27th out in Cole Hamels’ no-hitter on Saturday, driving a ball out to the warning track in center field, where Odubel Herrera awkwardly fell forward to make the catch in the dirt.
“The last three or four games I think I’ve hit five or six out to the warning track,” Bryant said. “That’s obviously frustrating, but I believe in baseball gods, and I believe they pay you back. I guess I got one today.”
Cubs fans must have been cursing the baseball gods after watching Jason Motte and Rafael Soriano in the ninth inning. The same crowd that cheered wildly for Bryant booed Soriano when the Cubs looked like a team fading from the playoff picture.
Motte couldn’t protect a three-run lead and close out the Rockies (42-55), giving up a leadoff homer to Daniel Descalso and back-to-back hits, leaving a no-outs jam that Soriano couldn’t escape. Carlos Gonzalez lined Soriano’s 91 mph fastball over the right-field wall and into the patio seats beneath the video board for the go-ahead two-run homer.
Bryant – the All-Star third baseman who appeared to be hitting the rookie wall – bailed the Cubs out in a walk-off win.
“It’s got to be one of the best feelings in sports,” Bryant said, “to do it on this stage, in front of the fans here in Chicago, and for myself, obviously. I’ve been struggling a little bit. But I’m never going to give up. I’m going to work as hard as I can and know that it’s going to turn around.”