Even an 0-for-4 afternoon with a trio of strikeouts isn’t likely to dampen Cubs fans’ excitement over the newly arrived Kris Bryant.
And it didn't dampen Bryant's enthusiasm, either.
Bryant had a rough time at the plate in his first day in the big leagues, striking out three times and stranding five runners in the Cubs’ 5-4 loss to the visiting San Diego Padres on Friday at Wrigley Field.
But the No. 1 prospect in baseball has the right attitude, still all smiles while talking after the game, talking about what a glorious day it was to be a big leaguer even if there were no results at the plate.
“It was fun. Sure, I could’ve done a little better," Bryant said. "There’s two sides to the ball. I thought I did well on defense, didn’t come around hitting. But I helped my team out as much as I could. But I just absorbed everything. It was just a fun moment, all the smells and the sounds and playing in front of 30,000 people. I think that’s the biggest crowd I’ve played in front of. And they’re all cheering for you. It was just a really cool moment for me.”
As he alluded to, Bryant’s defense was great, nearly making up for his offensive struggles. He had a busy day at the hot corner, but he made nearly every play that came his way, including starting a pair of double plays and making a highlight-reel diving snag on a rocket off the bat of Derek Norris.
And though the spotlight was squarely on him Friday, Bryant wasn’t the one who surrendered a go-ahead three-run homer to Wil Myers in the top of the seventh, the hit that turned the game around and earned Joe Maddon his first ejection as Cubs manager.
Thanks to a pair of two-run innings, the Cubs had a 4-2 lead in the seventh. But the Padres responded, tagging Jason Hammel for back-to-back singles and chasing the Cubs starter. After Zac Rosscup retired the only hitter he faced, Brian Schlitter surrendered a three-run home run to Myers, which flipped the game around and gave San Diego a 5-4 advantage.
The homer followed a pitch that many in attendance believed should have been the third strike of the at-bat, which was called a ball. Maddon apparently agreed with the assessment of the booing fans, as he walked out to the mound, started arguing with the home-plate umpire and earned the first ejection of his Cubs managerial tenure.
“That was intentional, absolutely," Maddon said of his ejection. "We still have to execute better in the moment, but I can’t permit that to happen without saying something. I really believe even prior to the (fourth-inning) home run by (Will) Middlebrooks that was a strike, also. I let that one slide, and I just couldn’t let it slide twice. However, even though we probably should’ve gotten a call there, we still have to make a better pitch on the next pitch, that’s part of this game. You’re not always going to get the calls that you’re looking for.”
But years from now, if Bryant becomes the type of big league star the Cubs and their fans envision, the seventh-inning homer and the fact that the Cubs lost the game will be nothing more than the answer to a trivia question.
Bryant earned a standing ovation when he strolled to the plate for the first time, something that wowed the 23-year-old kid from Las Vegas but was hardly unexpected by his manager.
“It was more than I could have ever imagined," Bryant said. "For them to believe in me that much is pretty cool, it gives me that extra boost of confidence stepping into the box. At the same time, I feel like I was trying to do a little bit too much just because I was hearing that stuff. I’m usually pretty good at blocking that out. I think as time goes by, I’ll get better at it. But it was pretty special to hear that today.”
“The Cub fans understand what’s going on here," Maddon said. "This is a young man that’s done extremely well in the minor leagues getting to this point in his career. Our fans are very savvy, and they recognize that. I thought it was great.”
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Bryant's three strikeouts and bounce out to third base will earn plenty of attention and likely some sarcastic "sky-is-falling" remarks on social media.
But like the front office that drafted him, Bryant is playing the long game. Friday was Day 1 of what's expected to be a long major league career. Heck, it's only game No. 9 of an 162-game campaign.
“Obviously it’s frustrating when you’ve got guys in scoring position and you don’t get the job done. But I’ve been in that position a lot. I’ve had some good moments and plenty of bad moments," Bryant said. "I think you’re going to get more bad moments in this game, and it’s all about keeping that level head and realizing that this game’s hard and it doesn’t always come to you right in the first three at-bats. But if you have the right attitude and go about your business the right way, I think it usually comes around. So no reason to hang my head.”
“Believe me," Maddon said, "he’s going to be fine, and he’s going to be very productive here. That’s just one game.”