The bases were loaded, but that wasn’t necessarily a good omen for the Cubs. They’d struggled in similar situations all season.
Then, for a moment, Willson Contreras turned those issues into a distant memory.
“Having that long of an at-bat and coming out with a hit …” Cubs manager David Ross said, “I think just seeing that fall was really rewarding for all of us.”
As the Cubs’ designated hitter Friday, Contreras drove in each and every one of the Cubs’ runs in a 4-1 win against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field. Those four RBIs were a season high for Contreras.
Contreras had slid to a .217 batting average entering play Friday, in an up-and-down short season. On Friday, he had three hits in four at-bats, including a solo home run.
If Contreras continues to take at-bats like he did against the Cardinals, he’ll naturally stabilize a lineup with a soft spot against left-handed pitching. After all, he is, as David Ross put it, a “lefty-killer.”
Even against right-handed pitching on Friday, Contreras left carnage in his wake.
His first at-bat, all nine pitches of it, set the tone.
Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward had walked to load the bases with two outs. Heading into Friday, the Cubs were batting just .186 with the bases loaded and were even worse with the bases loaded and two outs (.154).
“My mindset was just keep it simple,” Contreras said. “Don’t try to do too much, just try to hit a line drive straight to center field, and load early.”
Contreras watched four pitches from Jack Flaherty, the first three balls and one a strike. Then, Contreras fouled off the next four pitches. One foul ball screamed past the bat boy with such force that home plate umpire Angel Hernandez suggested he sit in the dugout for the rest of the game.
Then finally, Contreras lined a high slider into center field. Two runs scored.
“Once I took the first two pitches, I knew that I was going to be in a good spot,” Contreras said.
Contreras next came to the plate with runners on first and third in the third inning. Again with two outs, he singled and drove in a run.
“The two-out hit is a killer when you’re on the other side,” Ross said and then referenced an old adage, “Two-out knocks will get you to heaven.”
Against Flaherty, Contreras had changed his approach from last year. Facing the Cardinals ace last season, Contreras went 2-for-15, with seven strikeouts. Contreras said he was trying to do too much against Flaherty then.
On Friday, Contreras’ two-out single was the final blow for Flaherty. He was replaced by Jake Woodford in the third inning.
“I think whenever you have a good at-bat like that in the first at-bat DHing, that makes you feel great,” Contreras said. “That makes you have so much confidence for the second and third at-bat.”