Kris Bryant powers Cubs past Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers


Kris Bryant powers Cubs past Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

If Kris Bryant is still playing fantasy baseball, he might want to sit pitchers the night he faces them.

The Cubs slugger formed another "notch on his belt" with his first multi-homer game in the big leagues, including a two-run shot off Clayton Kershaw as the Cubs took down the reigning Cy Young winner with a 4-2 victory Monday night in front of 35,147 fans at Wrigley Field.

"It's kind of surreal," Bryant said. "I'm facing guys that were on my fantasy baseball team growing up."

Bryant's home run was also the first off a Kershaw curveball this season. The rookie waited back and went with the two-strike offering for his first career opposite-field blast.

"I was hoping I'd get a curveball, especially with the wind blowing out," Bryant said. "I just tried to put it in the air. I got one, and I did what I was supposed to do.

"(Kershaw is) the best pitcher in the game. I just got a good pitch to hit."

[MORE CUBS: Maddon: Rizzo needs to represent Cubs in All-Star Game]

Kershaw came out of the game after seven innings, and he might have been rattled a bit after a wacky occurrence in the sixth inning. The lights at Wrigley Field went out momentarily, and even when they came back on, several bulbs were out in some lighting docks.

That prompted Cubs manager Joe Maddon to come out of the dugout, and the game was delayed for almost 15 minutes as Maddon stated his case to the umpiring crew.

The game resumed even though all the lights had not come back on yet. But not before Maddon and the Cubs filed an official complaint.

"I didn't like the idea that we had to play against a guy that's really, really, really, really, really, really, really good," Maddon said. "You gotta see spin, you've gotta be able to read everything. I did not like the fact that we had to go out and play without all the lights on.

"Just be a little bit more patient and wait for the lights — that was my argument. I just thought it was inappropriate and I made my case.

"Originally, they said I could not protest, then we kept banging on it, because you can't protest a judgment call. In my opinion, that's not a judgment call. That's not in the book that the umpire can decide whether the lights are good enough or not. That was my contention."

[MORE CUBS: The education of Kyle Schwarber behind the plate]

Kershaw exchanged a few calm words with Maddon at the beginning of the delay, and as the down time wore on, the Dodgers ace started to stalk around the grass between the pitcher's mound and home plate.

He then warmed back up, only to be shut down again when Maddon came back out to file a protest. That led Kershaw into a little argument with the umpires.

"I have no idea (what Kershaw was arguing about)," Maddon said. "Probably that he had to stand out there for at least 15 minutes. I would have argued, too."

Maddon's filibuster worked, as Kershaw surrendered a home run to Matt Szczur — who was just called back up Monday — that gave the Cubs what proved to be a vital insurance run.

Bryant added a solo shot in the eighth inning, a rocket to the left-field seats off Dodgers reliever Adam Liberatore. The Cubs put a live shot of Bryant in the dugout on the video board in left field, and the fans got on their feet for a curtain call.

"That's another first, too," Bryant said. "That was pretty cool to get that reception."

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Bryant has always seemed to keep his even-keeled demeanor no matter what happens. Shrugging his shoulders and showing off his "aw shucks" smile is as much as he'd let himself outwardly celebrate his big night.

"I love the way he approaches the day, man," Maddon said. "You see he hits the home run, they force him to go out for the curtain call, but he comes back in, gives you a nice high five like, 'I'm gonna do this again.' I really like the way he handles all that."

Bryant had actually been struggling coming into the game, in the middle of an 0-for-14 stretch that saw him go hitless during the three-game series in Minnesota. Before Monday, he had hit just one home run in the last 22 games, and that longball came off a position player in the 17-0 blowout in Cleveland on Wednesday.

"It's a game of peaks and valleys, and I was on a valley," Bryant said. "I just went into the game telling myself I'm due and I'm due for a big game. And I got it.

"You just always gotta think that way in this game. It's crazy. It's so easy to get down on yourself. But those are the types of runs that make you the type of player you're going to be. I'm glad I came out of it tonight."

Maddon said guys like Bryant "always get clumpy with homers," and the Cubs manager hopes the rookie is on another one of those hot stretches, like when Bryant hit seven homers in 17 games in May.

"I have so much faith in him," Maddon said. "When a guy that good goes through a drought like that, it takes one. The home run he hit in Cleveland was against a position player, but I still was good with that. Because he felt it again, he felt the swing path and hit the ball to dead center field.

"He's going to continue to ascend. There's no doubt in my mind."

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.