The ball jumped off Kyle Schwarber’s bat with such force that Cardinals right fielder Dexter Fowler didn’t bother to drop step.
Leading off between second and third, Javier Báez straightened his legs out of his ready position and watched the ball soar.
Just to think, the same power hitter who had just scorched the ball into the upper half of the right-field bleachers had the night before decided his best bet at moving over the runner was to beat the shift with a bunt.
A 6-3 win over the Cardinals on Tuesday settled it: The Cubs had broken out of their rut.
"Top to bottom, that’s what we want it to look like," Cubs centerfielder Ian Happ said. "Adding on runs late, and that’s the big thing."
The Cubs’ struggles at the plate had peaked the day before. In the first game of a doubleheader against the Cardinals, the Cubs scored just one run on three hits.
They’d slid to a four-game losing streak, which carried more weight in a shortened season. And Cubs hitters had the highest strikeout rate in the league (28 percent).
But before the game, Ross stood by his hitters’ approach in the box.
“I think strikeouts are just part of our game now,” Ross said. “The main thing that I would stress that you see so far is just continuing to value the walk and taking the walk maybe when you’re not seeing the ball too well or maybe scuffling a little bit.”
Even in a rough patch, he wanted his players playing to their strengths.
In Game 2 Monday, the Cubs were hitless through five innings but had scored a run thanks to three walks and a passes ball in the first. In the sixth, they were still getting creative trying to move runners into scoring position. Schwarber, for example, struck out on a foul bunt. Willson Contreras finally broke up the no-hit bid with a double.
“We’ve been waiting for that big hit, ” Ross said Monday.
David Bote delivered a game-winning three-run homer.
“That was a shot of adrenaline for the team,” Happ recalled Wednesday. “I think that baseball is such a sport where if things aren’t going right it feels like things are piling on, and sometimes it does take that one shot of adrenaline or something big to get the guys back on the right page, and that homer from him last night was massive.”
On Wednesday, there was no more waiting for a big hit.
Happ hit a solo home run in the third inning to score the first run of the game, and then the Cubs runs in four of the next five innings.
They already led the National League in walks per game (4.24) entering play Wednesday. They added eight more walks to their total, giving themselves extra opportunities to score.
“We had guys in scoring position all night,” Ross said. “Continue to fight even when we don’t get guys in and push some of those runs across when you’ve got them on the ropes.
“They don’t give in.”