MILWAUKEE — Kris Bryant returned to an empty dugout after hitting his first home run in The Show.
The Cubs retreated through the tunnel that leads into Miller Park’s visiting clubhouse, messing with the rookie who patiently waited until his 21st game in the majors before finally driving one high over the wall in left-center field.
This became the highlight-reel clip during Saturday night’s ugly 12-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers: Bryant crushing a first-pitch slider from veteran right-hander Kyle Lohse in the third inning, sending it out toward Milwaukee’s bullpen for a three-run homer.
And the Cubs scattering by the time Bryant touched home plate and turned toward the visiting dugout, which is only a few steps away from the locker room.
“It was pretty funny that they all came in here,” Bryant said afterward, standing in front of his locker and towering over reporters. “They were all waiting over there by the door in kind of like a mosh pit, punching me and all that kind of stuff.”
Manager Joe Maddon said it was Anthony Rizzo’s idea, but the first baseman denied that and gave all the credit to bench coach Dave Martinez. Whatever. It’s clear that Bryant — who came into this season as Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect after leading all of minor-league baseball with 43 homers last year — has done a good job of blending in with his teammates.
“I know the type of player I am,” Bryant said. “I’ve always hit home runs in my life. Just because I hadn’t hit one in my whole time up here, I wasn’t pressing at all. I was just trying to do my job to help the team win. That’s what I’ve said all along.
“So far, I’ve been doing a pretty good job. But I think I can do even better.”
During his junior season at the University of San Diego, the 6-foot-5 slugger led the nation in home runs and out-homered more than 200 Division I programs, emerging as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft.
Every time you looked up in spring training, it seemed like Bryant hit another home run. You would not have taken his 92nd plate appearance in the home-run pool.
Until Bryant’s shot, the Cubs had zero three-run homers or grand slams this season. While they absolutely need his power this summer, he’s been contributing in other ways, making plays at third base, aggressively running the bases and giving this lineup another presence (.810 OPS).
“Everyone wants to define this young man by just hitting home runs — he’s a good baseball player,” Maddon said. “I met him in the winter meetings and never saw him play. Saw video of him, never saw him in person. (Our) people talked about his whole game, but I’m seeing it. I mean, it is an entire game.
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“He definitely works the whole thing. It’s not just hitting. It’s not just trying to hit home runs. It’s good at-bats, looking over a pitch. His defense has been really good. His arm’s well above-average.
“Understand, he’s going to figure this out. He’s really that good. If you get a guy that plays to that level of mental acuity nightly, that young (23), with that kind of physical ability with the bat, it’s going to get real good.”
Bryant already had the baseball in a glass case on the top shelf of his locker.
“It’s a cool feeling,” Bryant said. “Just get the first one out of the way. It had kind of been awhile.”