Kyle Schwarber's grand slam fuels Cubs' comeback over Cardinals

Kyle Schwarber's grand slam fuels Cubs' comeback over Cardinals

Kyle Schwarber’s first career grand slam came at a perfect time.

The Cubs slugger crushed an opposite field grand slam in the seventh inning to power the Cubs past the St. Louis Cardinals, 5-3, on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field. Schwarber’s grand slam was his ninth home run of the season.

"Obviously, it was nice to come up in that spot and be able to help out," Schwarber said. "It’s kind of a sigh of relief because I want to go up there and I want to help my team. For me to do that today was great."

In a season that hasn't gone Schwarber's way so far, his confidence is still intact, especially after a big win against a division-rival.

"You’ve just got to stay the course," Schwarber said. "You’ve got to know that you’re here for a reason. That’s half the battle is knowing that you’re a good player, and more than half of this game is mental.

"I always try to stay as positive and mentally strong as I can be because I know how crazy this game is. It can put you at your highest highs and your lowest lows, and you’ve just got to be able to stay the same person."

Prior to Saturday's game, Joe Maddon moved the struggling Schwarber to the ninth spot after the Cubs manager "hated" what he saw on Friday hitting seventh.

Maddon personally called Schwarber after Friday's game to explain that he wanted the 24-year-old to hit last, essentially becoming another leadoff man with Jon Lester batting eighth. It worked on Saturday, as Schwarber delivered in the clutch to help give his team a win.

"He told me his reason, and I was like, 'all right,'" Schwarber said. "I’m going with it. Whatever the skipper does, I’m going to follow it. We’ve got his back, he’s got our back. It’s all a process. It worked out today."

Maddon plans to keep Schwarber in the ninth spot for Sunday's series finale.

Lester, who started the game on extra day's rest, struggled with his command early, allowing two walks and a single to the first three batters of the game, which loaded the bases. Cardinals' Jose Martinez followed with a single, which scored two.

Again in the second, the Cubs ace allowed the first to batters to reach base with back-to-back singles, but the Cubs left the inning unscathed.

Javier Baez cut the Cubs' deficit in half in the third when he belted with a solo homer to center field, his ninth of the season. Yadier Molina answered and got the Cardinals' run back when he homered in the sixth inning to give the opposing team a 3-1 lead.

In the seventh, Jason Heyward and Willson Contreras kicked things off with back-to-back singles of their own. After a Javier Baez strike out, Jon Jay was beamed, loading the bases for Schwarber, who went deep on the first pitch he saw to give the Cubs a 5-3 lead and secure the win.

Schwarber has received his fair share of criticism because of his struggles, but "it's big" that he has the support of his teammates. 

"It’s easy to kick a guy to the curb, seeing the numbers like that. It has been a big support system with the fans, to the players, to our manager, to our coaching staff, front office, everything," Schwarber said. "It’s really big. You can definitely go home and feel even worse if they didn’t treat me the way that they did, but they’re all here to pick us up, and that’s kind of how our team is.

"We’re going to pick each other up."

When Schwarber was heading in the dugout following his grand slam, Maddon said his hand hurt after Schwarber put some extra juice into his high-five.

"Yeah, I gave him a little extra," Schwarber said. "It was an exciting moment, it was a big moment. To put us ahead in that spot and to be able to hold those guys off and come out with a win was big."

Schwarber said that he had actually been wanting to hit a ball hard to the opposite field. He did just that. Now, he wants to take the momentum and ride with it. 

"Hopefully, this was a good sign today," Schwarber said. "I’m just going to keep with the course, working with (John Mallee) and everything like that. I’m feeling good at the plate. Let’s keep it going."

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

For the second time in 1998, Sosa went back-to-back games with multiple home runs. After going yard twice on June 19 of that season, Slammin' Sammy again sent two balls into the bleachers on June 20.

He singlehandedly beat the Phillies that night, driving in 5 runs in a 9-4 Cubs victory.

But that wasn't the most impressive feat of the day from Sosa. His second homer was actually measured at a whopping 500 feet! It was the longest of the season, but not the longest of his career. On June 24, 2003, Sosa hit a homer at Wrigley measured at 511 feet.

The back-to-back big games raised Sosa's season OPS to 1.083 with a ridiculous .685 slugging percentage. He began June 1998 with a .608 slugging percentage.

Fun fact: Kerry Wood struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings on June 20, 1998 to pick up his 7th big-league victory. As Wood marched to the National League Rookie of the Year that season, he finished with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in only 166.2 innings for a career-high 12.6 K/9 rate.