SAN FRANCISCO — Willson Contreras struck out in the ninth inning Sunday, put his bat away for the last time as a Cub and wandered to the other end of the dugout for the final minutes of the game.
At which point teammates took turns shaking his hand and hugging him.
“That’s when I realized that it was the last game before the deadline,” he said.
His last game with the Cubs after seven big-league seasons that included three All-Star starts and the most celebrated championship in the sport’s history.
“It hit me a little bit there,” he said after the 4-0 loss to the Giants, speaking publicly for the first time since Wednesday’s emotional final game at Wrigley Field. “Tomorrow’s an off day. We’ll see what happens.
“It’s going to be a long day,” he added. “It’s been a long, long week, a long, long month for me. But I’m ready for this to be over to be honest.”
Contreras is the surest Cub this side of closer David Robertson to be traded by Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline — teams from San Diego to New York talking to the Cubs about one of the top two hitters on the trade market.
The Cubs’ next game, in St. Louis, won’t start for almost two hours after that.
“This is the first time in my career that I’ve been in this position. It’s not easy. I just want this to be over,” he said, repeating that last part four more times over the next two or three minutes of conversation.
“I’ve talked to a few coaches about the situation,” he said. “It’s not easy to be there playing with all these rumors. Yeah, I’m ready for it to be over.”
The Cubs’ second deadline selloff in as many seasons began Saturday with reliever Chris Martin’s trade to the Dodgers for utility infielder Zach McKinstry, who struck out as a pinch-hitter in his Cubs debut Sunday.
Contreras said he hasn’t talked to the Cubs front office this week about his status or trade updates and plans to spend Monday playing video games or hanging by the hotel pool while avoiding social media and other rumor mills.
All he knows is he could be gone from the only organization he has known by the time the team’s charter lands in St. Louis before dawn, or go down to the final minutes before the deadline — like Kris Bryant did last year before being traded to the Giants.
“I’m really thankful for the time that I’ve been here, 14 years,” said Contreras, who signed as a Venezuelan amateur free agent at 17. “But obviously this game shows you that it’s not about feelings. It’s about business. And that’s what I learned this year. Yeah. It’s not about feelings.”
Feelings have defined Contreras’ career since breaking in as a fiery rookie catcher during June of that 2016 championship run, eventually earning five World Series starts that fall — through a teary final two-game “homestand” a few days ago at Wrigley Field.
“We’re all going to miss Willson,” Cubs starter Marcus Stroman said, who called Contreras a “cornerstone” of the franchise. “I think his career’s just getting started to be honest. It definitely sucks to lose a guy like Willson, a guy who comes up each and every day and competes to the absolute maximum. It’s hard to find that.”
Contreras, who said the distraction of his short-time status began to hit him a week ago when he returned home for the final time, kept out of sight of media most of the four-game series in San Francisco, taking a mental break from the biggest storyline of the Cubs season as much as anything, before circling back after Sunday’s final game.
“I know you guys are trying to do your job, and I’m OK with that,” he said. “It was more like, I feel it was saying the same thing over and over. Because I don’t know what’s going to happen. And I didn’t want to say anything that I was going to regret later.”
That’s where the emotion Stroman — and teammates — talk about comes into play.
After a breakout first half this season, the reality of what comes next finally started to impact him on the field, as he slumped since his All-Star appearance.
“It’s just hard because any time that you have a little time off, a little free time, your mind’s going right away to trade rumors or a trade,” he said. “I wish that wasn’t the case, but I won’t lie.”
Manager David Ross: “I don’t blame him. He’s an emotional player, in a great way. We’ve seen a lot of things that are important to him that he’s had to deal with. I would think that would affect anybody.”
Contreras’ imminent departure will leave two players from the 2016 championship on the roster: Kyle Hendricks and Jason Heyward.
If Javy Báez provided the “El Mago” electricity of that six-year run of winning and Anthony Rizzo was the face of that group, Contreras has certainly been its emotional center — and more recently even a mentor as the rest of the championship core was sold out from under his and teammates’ best efforts to win.
“I care, man. I care,” he said. “I care a lot about my pitchers, and I care a lot about the game-calling, and I care a lot about making the team better, and I care a lot about winning.
“I know that this team is not made to win this year — not even close,” he said. “But I learned a lot from this team too, from losing. I learned a lot.”
There was nothing left to learn — nothing left to see here — as he spoke following Sunday’s game, having already taken off his Cubs uniform for the last time.
A redeye flight awaited. And a destination unknown.
“I just want this to be over.”