The thing about Willson Contreras slamming his first big-league home run on the very first big-league pitch he saw in front of a loud, adoring home crowd is... how does he top that?
Of course you want to see that homer again. Here it is!
Contreras' homer, one of five the Cubs hit Sunday night, and solid pitching from Kyle Hendricks (who struck out a career-high 12), led the Cubs to a 10-5 win over the Pirates and a sweep of the three-game series. The Cubs have won eight of nine against the Bucs this year.
Hendricks was excellent. 12 strikeouts -- from a guy who barely touches 90 miles per hour with his best fastball. But when Kyle is on, he pounds the zone and has good movement and location, and he had all that Sunday night. Just five runners got past first base off Hendricks, and the only real mistake he made was the pitch that Josh Harrison deposited into the center-field basket, a hanging breaking ball.
And for once, Hendricks got some run support. The 10 runs was as many as the Cubs had scored in Kyle's previous three starts combined. He moved up from 124th to 99th on the starter run-support list (out of 139 qualified starters). The other four Cubs starters are all in the top 18.
All of this looked like it would provide an easy win, and then the soft underbelly of the Cubs bullpen got involved. Justin Grimm retired the only batter he faced in the seventh, and truth be told, I'd just as soon have seen Joe Maddon leave him in. But Maddon decided he wanted the platoon advantage against pinch-hitter Matt Joyce and Gregory Polanco, so in came Clayton Richard.
That didn't work. Joyce singled off Richard, who then walked Polanco. Adam Warren was next. A force play registered the second out, but then Starling Marte ripped a ball down the left-field line, scoring two runs. Here's where I crack the door of the complaint department open just a little. It was obvious (to me, at least) that Andrew McCutchen was going to score the second run on the play, but Addison Russell fired a relay throw home -- when he had a play right in front of him at third base. Marte would have been out easily, ending the inning. You can even hear ESPN's Dan Shulman [VIDEO] express surprise that Russell came home with the throw.
That would have prevented the Pirates' fourth run from scoring, as an out at third would have ended the inning. Instead, Jung Ho Kang singled to make it 6-4.
But the Cubs responded with four runs of their own in the seventh, capped by a two-run homer by Russell. Here are all five of the Cubs' homers [VIDEO] (including some of Pat Hughes' radio calls). Those blasts include back-to-back shots by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, the ninth time they have gone back-to-back, and second day in a row. They seem to be in a competition for the team homer lead -- still tied at 17.
The four-run outburst gave the Cubs a six-run lead and had many of the fans heading home, perhaps needing to get ready for Monday work days. The Pirates added a run in the ninth off Warren, which necessitated Maddon bringing Pedro Strop in to shut the door. That's the only other issue I had with this marvelous game -- that the Cubs are absolutely going to have to look for help for the back end of the bullpen. I don't know how soon it'll happen or who the additions/changes will be, but I'm reasonably certain that one or more of the current Cubs relievers won't be on this team after the All-Star break.
Also of note: three hits from Javier Baez (including one of the homers) and more slick defense -- here's another nice stop in the eighth inning [VIDEO] and strong and accurate throw to first base.
Rizzo and Jason Heyward also had three hits each. Heyward is hitting .290/.362/.484 in 69 PA in June and as for Rizzo:
Remember that Anthony Rizzo slump?— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 20, 2016
He's hitting .385/.481/.754 with 6 HR & 18 RBI over last 19 games.#Cubs
The 10 runs gave the Cubs the National League lead with 364 total runs, four more than the Cardinals, who begin a series at Wrigley tonight. The Cubs are averaging 5.43 runs per game, which would give them 880 for the season, their most since 1930. The run differential increased to +171, or 2.55 per game. That's a pace for +413, which would break the major-league record (+411, 1939 Yankees).
What a remarkable run this has been, and it keeps getting more jaw-droppingly amazing every day. I'm running out of words to describe what we've all been seeing, so here are a couple of numbers to contemplate:
#Cubs record this season when scoring:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 20, 2016
4+ runs: 43-3
5+ runs: 37-1
6+ runs: 33-0
25 of the #Cubs' 47 wins (53.2%) have been by 5+ runs.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 20, 2016
More 5+ run wins (25) than losses (20).
And then, of course, there's Contreras, who will start Monday night's game, catching John Lackey. He's the eighth Cub to homer in his first major-league at-bat, but just the fourth to do it at Wrigley Field, and first at Wrigley since Carmelo Martinez inaugurated his MLB career with a Wrigley homer in his first at-bat August 22, 1983. (Martinez currently works in the Cubs' baseball operations department as Latin America field coordinator.) Coming up at 9:30 a.m. CT I'll have an article here on the other seven Cubs who did it, including Jorge Soler, who was the most recent Cub to accomplish this feat, two years ago. And after Contreras was done with the adulation of the crowd, he got back to more prosaic work:
And after a home run and curtain call, #Cubs Contreras goes to bullpen to help warm up pitchers— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 20, 2016
The Cubs improved to 25-8 at home, a pace for a 61-20 home record, which would be the most home wins in Cubs history (record: 58, set in 1910; most in the 162-game schedule era is 55, in 2008) and just four fewer than the major-league record of 65 (1961 Yankees). The National League record is 64 (1975 Reds).
And they are underperforming their Pythagorean projection by four games.
Cubs walk watch: just two in this game makes 291 for the season, or 4.34 per game. Pace: 704.
I could recite these all day but it's time to rest up for tonight's game against the Cardinals. As noted above, John Lackey goes for the Cubs and Jaime Garcia for St. Louis.