Willson Contreras plays with his 'hair on fire' and fuels comeback win for Cubs

Willson Contreras plays with his 'hair on fire' and fuels comeback win for Cubs

The Cubs needed this shot of adrenaline from Willson Contreras, an energetic player who had to learn how to channel his emotions before becoming the rookie catcher for a World Series winner.

Whether or not you believe in the hangover effect, the Cubs haven’t looked quite as sharp as the 2016 team that — beginning Opening Night — played like it was on a mission. Maybe this Contreras-fueled 5-4 comeback victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field will become a spark.

“You plug into this guy,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He plays with his hair on fire. He does. Sometimes it can actually work against him. He gets a little bit overassertive. As he learns to play with his hair on fire — not absolutely a forest fire, maybe just slightly like the burning bush of some kind — he’s going to learn how to control all that.”

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Contreras made it through last October and early November just fine and entered this one-run game as a pinch-hitter. Facing lefty reliever Joely Rodriguez, Contreras drove a go-ahead, two-run double into left field, clapping his hands and pointing to the sky from second base as the crowd of 39,335 roared.

That piece of clutch hitting showed how Contreras stays alert and mentally prepared and why the comeback Cubs (15-12) might be ready to take off again. But the essence of Contreras also came through on the very next at-bat when Matt Szczur hit a ball toward Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis, who made a diving stop to his left and spun around.

As Contreras kept sprinting from second base, Galvis paused and threw a ball that bounced off the back of the pitcher’s mound. That allowed Contreras to slide headfirst under the tag from catcher Andrew Knapp. Feeling out of breath, Contreras got up from the dirt and slapped home plate with his right hand for a 5-3 lead and the insurance run the Cubs would need.

“I don’t know how to play (any other way),” said Contreras, who credited third base coach Gary Jones. “He sent me home the whole way. I was running as hard as I could and I was trying to get around the base. I think I missed it at first. Everything happened so fast.”


Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 49th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 49th homer 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.

Sosa's 49th homer of the season came with a runner on 1st and one out, when Oriel Hershiser served up a high fastball that Sammy belted 415 feet into the last few rows in left-center field. 

Sosa would later start the game-winning rally in the bottom of the ninth, scoring the game-tying run on a Henry Rodriguez single through the right side of the infield. Jose Hernandez would step in the next at-bat and walk it off with a base hit that scored Mark Grace, as Sammy and the Cubs bested the Giants 6-5. 

Fun Fact: A 33-year-old Barry Bonds would hit home run No. 25, finishing the season with 37 homers. He would finish the next season with 34 dingers but would string five consecutive seasons with at least 45 home runs, of course hitting a record 73 home runs in 2001. 

Yu Darvish suffering another setback puts his 2018 season in jeopardy

Yu Darvish suffering another setback puts his 2018 season in jeopardy

Yu have to be kidding me (Sorry, couldn't resist). 

The Cubs were expecting Sunday's rehab start to be the beginning to an end of what has been an extremely disappointing 2018 season for their $126 million man Yu Darvish. Darvish was scheduled to start Sunday for the Cubs single-A affiliate in South Bend, IN, but after just one inning Darvish was checked on by the trainers and eventually pulled before the 2nd inning started. 

According to Steve Greenberg, Darvish asked for an MRI on Monday which likely closes the door on him returning to the Cubs in 2018.

The frustrating thing about Darvish's rehab is that in his two rehab starts, the 32-year-old pitcher has had excellent stuff, touching 95 mph in Sunday afternoon's game before being pulled. 

At this point in the season, it seems unlikely Darvish will be able to return to the Cubs rotation for the regular season. And it would be incredibly risky to roll with Darvish in the playoffs, who even when healthy hasn't shown he's deserving of a postseason roster spot. The Cubs do have options at starter in the minors like Duane Underwood or James Norwood, and despite his shortcomings, Tyler Chatwood is an option out of necessity now.  

Drew Smyly, who looked like a possibility as a late-season addition, is still not quite ready to come back and be an effective rotation piece at the moment. And with Mike Montgomery heading to the disabled list earlier this week, the Cubs were hopeful Darvish would be healthy by the time rosters expand in September. 

Luckily, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, and Kyle Hendricks have all looked stellar recently and hopefully can continue their success on the mound as the Cubs continue to fight past injuries to maintain their grasp on the NL Central. 

But Theo Epstein said himself last week that if Darvish didn't perform well during his rehab stint, that was essentially his 2018 season. Don't expect to see Darvish returning to the mound until 2019, Cubs fans.