Cubs

New bullpen addition George Kontos is happy the Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016...but he didn't want them to

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AP

New bullpen addition George Kontos is happy the Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016...but he didn't want them to

George Kontos is just like you.

He was born in the Chicagoland area (Lincolnwood), grew up a diehard Cubs fan and went to school close to home at Northwestern. He even lived and died with that uber-emotional 2003 National League Championship Series, hanging out on Waveland Avenue with college buddies during the infamous Bartman Game.

But that's where the comparisons stop.

When the Cubs finally won it all in November 2016, the veteran reliever had a unique perspective...and he wasn't quite sure what to feel.

Kontos rooted for the Cubs his whole life and now finally gets to put on a uniform with the iconic logo, signing a minor-league deal with the organization over the winter. But he was originally selected out of Northwestern by the New York Yankees in the 5th round of the 2006 MLB Draft and later traded to the San Francisco Giants in April 2012. He spent the next five years in San Francisco, winning a pair of World Series but also losing to those 2016 Cubs in the NLDS after a collapse by Kontos' bullpen mates in Game 4.

"Being in baseball, I'm obviously rooting for the team I'm playing for. I've come in and played against the Cubs lots of times and the 8-year-old inside of me has always rooted for them," Kontos said. "But 2016 was a little bit difficult because they went through us in the first round and we had that bit of a collapse in Game 4 with our bullpen.

"So that one was tough. I can't say I was rooting the Cubs on then, just because it was so fresh and left such a bad taste in my mouth after how we finished our season. But now that it's moved on, I'm happy that they were able to do that. It was something I always hoped for growing up and the fact they were able to do it and I was able to watch it is awesome."

Kontos still lives in Chicago, so even after the Giants were knocked out in 2016, he couldn't escape the Cubs' run. Not that he necessarily wanted to, either.

As that postseason developed, Kontos was recruited by 120 Sports (now Stadium) to do a live broadcast of Games 1 and 2 of the World Series in the West Loop studios.

He still had to fight through those mixed emotions for the broadcasts, especially because he — like Cubs manager Joe Maddon — felt great about the Giants' chances if they were able to get back to Wrigley Field for Game 5 of the NLDS with Johnny Cueto on the mound. Maddon has often pointed to how important that Game 4 comeback was because San Francisco had Cueto looming for a winner-take-all matchup at what guaranteed to be a tense atmosphere at the corner of Clark and Addison.

But now, looking back, Kontos can revel in the joy the same way other Cubs fans can. Plus, the dude has two World Series rings already from the 2012 and 2014 Giants.

He hasn't spent a lot of time around these Cubs, but he can see some similarities between those Giants "dyansty" teams and this current Cubs roster. 

"The thing we had with the Giants the years we won is we had unbelievable team chemistry," Kontos said. "Everyone checked their ego at the door and it was playing as a unit to accomplish one common goal to win that day. And as the season progresses and as the postseason kicks in, that motto is definitely amplified where we have to come in and win today. It's all about picking each other up."

Kontos may get caught up in the numbers game in the Cubs bullpen, as there are plenty of arms vying for the last couple spots in spring training.

Who knows how this will all shake out with Kontos, but for now, he's getting to play for the team he grew up watching and rooting for.

"It's a dream come true," Kontos said. "I've been a Cubs fan since I was 5 years old. In those dreams as a little kid, it was always a Cubs uniform I was wearing as I was envisioning myself in a major-league game. 

"Being able to step into this clubhouse and put this jersey on and hopefully getting the opportunity to toe it up at Wrigley on Opening Day or whenever throughout the season, it's definitely going to be a dream come true for me, my family and everybody who's ever rooted me on along the way — teachers, friends, people from Northwestern. There are a lot of ties that go back there and I'm very proud to pitch in front of whenever I pitch at Wrigley."

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Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi to talk all things Chicago baseball as the Cubs take on the Braves and the White Sox look to get a win in Boston.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: