CLEVELAND — Willson Contreras became the first Cub in franchise history to apologize on social media for pimping a double in a World Series game.
These Cubs are trying to write their own history with a group of young players who love the game and play it with flair and a definite sense of swagger. That raw talent and those emotional sparks helped this team win 103 games and its first National League pennant since 1945. Major League Baseball desperately needs more personalities, and the Cubs are delivering that hoped-for surge in TV ratings, with Fox no doubt rooting for the drama of a Game 7.
As much as the Cubs run on adrenaline, they also don’t crash hard, bouncing back with a 5-1 win over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night before the World Series shifts to what will be a wild scene in Wrigleyville this weekend.
Contreras made his presence felt in Game 2 by helping Jake Arrieta flirt with a no-hitter, holding the Indians to zero stolen bases, getting on base three times and learning from his mistake the night before. Facing Indians closer Cody Allen — with his team down six runs in the ninth inning on Tuesday — Contreras hammered a 92-mph fastball and watched it fly at Progressive Field.
Contreras flipped his bat aside, took about five steps and then started to realize that he needed to hustle and follow manager Joe Maddon’s “Respect 90” philosophy.
“I swear I didn’t see it,” Maddon said. “I guess we’re setting a record for the most guys under 24 years of age. And I want to believe that (with) a lot of our youngsters — as they gain more experience — you’re going to see a lot of that stuff go away.
“But I did not notice it. I jumped out to see the flight of the ball and I saw it hit the wall. But I did not see what he was doing. So I would not have known that had you not brought it up.”
It did not go unnoticed within the clubhouse, which has already seen Javier Baez do the same act during the playoffs. A veteran Cub said something to Contreras, who posted a message on his Twitter account:
I apologize to the fans from both sides I didn't meant to disrespect My Team @Cubs and The game.!! I Promise It Won't Happen Again.— Willson Contreras (@WContreras40) October 26, 2016
Contreras has been a quick study, absorbing a sophisticated scouting/game-planning system and learning how to work with a veteran pitching staff filled with different personalities. Maddon paired Contreras with a Cy Young Award winner — keeping Miguel Montero on the bench — and will rely on the rookie catcher with a rocket arm to help control the running game against an aggressive Cleveland team.
“He’s an energizer, there’s no question,” Maddon said. “When you talk to him, he definitely engages you. He looks right at you when you’re speaking to him. He’s passionate about his job and very bright.”
Lesson learned: When Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis misplayed a groundball with two outs in the fifth inning, Contreras sprinted to first base and reached safely on the error. That pushed Bryan Shaw — Cleveland’s second of six relievers out of the bullpen — to keep working. Back-to-back walks to Jorge Soler and Addison Russell then forced in an insurance run that made it 5-0.
“I want to compete,” Contreras said. “It feels good when you win the (battle) against one of the best closers in the big leagues. (But) I was wrong. My first thought was get the phone, tweet it out. I knew it was my fault. But it won’t happen again.”
With essential contributions from Baez (NL Championship Series co-MVP) and Contreras (9-for-25, .949 OPS in playoffs), the Cubs have obliterated the narratives about this team playing too tight and worrying about what happened in the past and expecting something to go wrong.
“We all are like brothers,” Contreras said. “We support each other. Either way, Americans or Latin players, we are one team. We’re able to be ourselves because of that confidence that they give us. Maddon gives you the confidence to go out there and play your baseball and do what you got to do.
“That’s important for us — feel freedom.”