Cubs

Even while facing knee surgery, Pedro Strop expects to be part of playoff push with Cubs

Even while facing knee surgery, Pedro Strop expects to be part of playoff push with Cubs

Pedro Strop might be the most positive, emotional player on a Cubs team that loves to express itself, and he feared the worst after he heard a pop in his left knee and couldn’t straighten out his leg.

“It was a horrible feeling,” Strop said. “I almost cried, just thinking I might be out for the season. This is a really special group. I want to be part of it in the playoffs and the World Series.”

Strop, a featured part of that October blueprint as a trusted setup guy, could exhale after Thursday morning’s MRI revealed a torn meniscus that will sideline him for four-to-six weeks – instead of until Opening Day 2017. Strop will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Friday, the relative good news being the MRI didn’t show any torn ligaments or season-ending damage.

“It could have been worse,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It could have gone in any direction, obviously, so in some ways, we’re lucky.”

Strop didn’t get a good jump off the Wrigley Field mound on Wednesday night, when Los Angeles Angels leadoff guy Yunel Escobar began the eighth inning by softly hitting a groundball up the third-base line. Strop felt his adrenaline take over and slid awkwardly while picking up the ball, getting caught in the grass as the weight of his body collapsed onto his left knee.

[RELATED: Cubs out to 'clinch as quickly as possible']

Javier Baez should be credited with a save in that 3-1 victory over the Angels. The third baseman shouted “No! No! No!” and grabbed Strop before he could fire the ball to first base.

“The doctor said maybe if I turned to make the throw, it could be worse,” Strop said. “So I appreciate how Javy kind of hugged me and didn’t let me throw the ball.”

Strop walked around the clubhouse in crutches before Thursday night’s rivalry game against the St. Louis Cardinals. To take Strop’s spot in the bullpen, the Cubs recalled hard-throwing right-hander Justin Grimm – who’s been squeezed by the numbers game because of his minor-league option – from Triple-A Iowa.

“It was terrible news,” Grimm said. “Honestly, it really was, even when I got the call that I was coming back to the big leagues. Strop’s an unbelievable teammate, probably one of the best teammates I’ve ever had. He always comes to the field with a smile on his face. It’s a tough loss, but I hope we get him back as soon as we can.”

The final image of Strop (2.89 ERA, 21 holds) this season doesn’t have to be him limping off the field with the help of Baez and an athletic trainer. Soon enough, Strop should be pointing at the sky and pounding his chest again.

“I know I’m going to be back next month,” Strop said. “And I’m going to keep helping this team to win – and get where we want to (go) – a World Series championship.”

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi to talk all things Chicago baseball as the Cubs take on the Braves and the White Sox look to get a win in Boston.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: