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.”
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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.”