It doesn’t happen very often — in fact, hadn’t happened for a Cub since Willson Contreras did it June 19, 2016, also against the Pirates — but a player coming to the plate for the first time in the major leagues and hitting a home run is an exciting thrill for both the player and fans watching the event.
So it was for Christopher Morel, making his major-league debut Tuesday evening against the Pirates at Wrigley Field, pinch-hitting for Patrick Wisdom. Morel watched a slider go by and swung at another one. Those were strikes one and two, then Morel worked the count full. And then: Boom! [VIDEO]
Here, Christopher, is your very first “That ball was crushed!” (Hopefully, the first of many.)
Having been quite close to that baseball when it left the yard, I can tell you that Boog and JD’s claim that it “hit Waveland” is incorrect. The ball hit the concourse and bounced against the back of the back row of the bleachers, and one of my friends — I’m honestly not sure who, will find out later today — got it. As far as I know, the ball did eventually get back to Morel.
Now, watch that video again. Who’s more excited, Morel or Contreras? And importantly for Morel, he realized he missed first base the first time and went back to touch it. He also had his first MLB bat flip — a good one, in my opinion. A couple more notes on Morel’s blast:
The inning before his first career homer, Christopher Morel told Willson Contreras & Alfonso Rivas that he was going to hit a home run in his first MLB at-bat.— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) May 18, 2022
Morel on what went through his mind rounding the bases: "In this moment, I don't think. I just say, 'Oh my God.'" #Cubs
Standing ovation for Christopher Morel as he takes the field. He smiles wide and raises his hat to the crowd here.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) May 18, 2022
Before the game, he said: "The Cubs, they've got a lot of fans, good fans. I love the Cubs fans. I love it. I know this stadium is so huge."
And you know — this almost didn’t happen. Morel was on deck in the sixth to bat for Rafael Ortega, but Ildemaro Vargas popped up to end that inning, so Morel’s debut was saved for the eighth and all the excitement we saw. Morel was certainly excited [VIDEO].
This was the 129th time a player had homered in his MLB first at-bat, and second this year. Here’s the entire list.
One last bit of video, lovingly put together by MLB’s Twitter account:
Really. How can you not be romantic about baseball? pic.twitter.com/FpkVUNQGtY— MLB (@MLB) May 18, 2022
Now, let’s rewind to the beginning of the Cubs’ second straight shutout win, 7-0 over the Pirates, their fourth win in a row and sixth in their last eight.
Keegan Thompson had a bit of a shaky first inning, allowing a hit with one out and running the count full on Ben Gamel. But then Thompson struck out Gamel and Contreras threw out Bryan Reynolds trying to steal and the inning was over. That seemed to settle Thompson down.
The game remained scoreless to the bottom of the third, when Jonathan Villar sent his first homer of the year into the bleachers [VIDEO].
So it’s 1-0 heading to the fourth and Thompson allowed a deep drive by Daniel Vogelbach that bounced away from Ian Happ and when the play was all over, Vogelbach had his first MLB triple.
The next batter was Yoshi Tsutsugo, and... well, watch [VIDEO].
A little bit of a kerfuffle followed. The play was clean and within the rules (no lane violation). It appeared Contreras accidentally touched Vogelbach in the face with his mitt, and Vogelbach took exception. Bullpens emptied — I don’t think I’ve seen relievers run that fast in a while! — but nothing resulted from it. This is a pretty good summary:
Daniel Vogelbach tried to tag/score on flyout to RF in 4th. Easily out on Suzuki throw.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) May 18, 2022
After Volgelbach & Contreras connected at plate, the catcher patted the Pirates DH on the back. Vogelbach tossed the catcher's mask away.
Contreras got hot, benches cleared. Calmed quickly.
Vogelbach was roundly booed for the rest of the game, and it appears the former Cubs prospect is now a Wrigley Field villain.
Then the bottom of the fourth happened, and ladies and gentlemen, if you think the Cubs are a bad team, I present to you the Pittsburgh Pirates, who gave the Cubs four extra outs in the inning. Don’t believe me? Here’s what happened, while the TV folks were busy talking with Monday’s hero Wade Miley.
Contreras led off the inning with a grounder to short. He wound up safe after a bad throw by Pirates shortstop Rodolfo Castro (that’s one extra out). Ian Happ hit a popup to the area around shortstop, and Bucs third baseman Michael Chavis, who was shifted over, simply let it drop. Then he picked up the ball and just stood there, not realizing Contreras had to hold up. There was still a force in play at second base, but Contreras simply walked in safely (that’s two extra outs). I mean... this is not major-league play [VIDEO].
Alfonso Rivas walked and Frank Schwindel made it 4-0 with this double that bounced into the stands [VIDEO].
Patrick Wisdom struck out for the first out of the inning and Villar hit a ground ball to first that should have been the second official out of the inning and... oh, no, Pirates [VIDEO].
All Tsutsugo had to do was flip to the pitcher, JT Brubaker, he was there waiting for the ball, but instead Tsutsugo tried to dive to tag first base. That was late, Villar was safe and Rivas scored to make it 5-0. That’s the third extra out and there’s still only one actual out (Wisdom’s K) in the inning.
That put runners on first and third for Vargas. Take it away, at MLBReplays!
Btm 4th – @Cubs challenge call that Jonathan Villar is out at 2B and Ildemaro Vargas is out at 1B; call of out at 2B is overturned, runner is safe, call of out at 1B is confirmed, batter-runner is out. Powered by @Mitel. pic.twitter.com/yvLrnO3kJ4— MLB Replays (@MLBReplays) May 18, 2022
The Pirates thought they’d turned an inning-ending double play, but Villar’s slide had him on the base before the ball landed in Castro’s glove. The call at second was overturned, though Vargas was out at first. On the play, Schwindel scored to make it 6-0. There’s the fourth extra out. The atrocious Pirates defense in that inning helped the Cubs to a five-run frame.
Back to Thompson: He breezed through five innings. Just two Pirates got past first base on him, he didn’t walk anyone and struck out five. You could see his confidence build as the game went on. I’ve said previously that he appeared to be better in long relief (perhaps after an “opener”), but... maybe he’s made his case for the rotation after all.
Thompson was relieved by Daniel Norris in the sixth. Norris recorded one out and then left the game with a 2-0 count on Josh VanMeter. That’s unfortunate, as Norris has been throwing better lately. Here’s what happened:
LHP Daniel Norris exited tonight's game with right Achilles soreness. He is day-to-day. #Cubs— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) May 18, 2022
Let’s hope he’s okay. If not, the Cubs could put him on the IL and bring back Conner Menez, who was optioned before Monday’s game.
That injury gave Brandon Hughes a chance to make his MLB debut, and it was spectacular: He officially faced six batters (after finishing a plate appearance with a walk that was charged to Norris), walked one, but struck out the other five and that put him in the record books:
Brandon Hughes of the @Cubs is the first pitcher in the modern era to get 5+ outs in his MLB debut with all of them coming via strikeout.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) May 18, 2022
I mean, look at these!
Brandon Hughes, Vicious Sliders. pic.twitter.com/4o0f6Xb6I8— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 18, 2022
It’s only one game and I’m not sure the Cubs had intended to keep Morel and Hughes on the major-league roster for anything more than a cuppa coffee at this point in the season. But performances like this can force the issue. It might be that the Cubs have found a couple of players who can really help them at the big-league level. David Ross thinks so [VIDEO].
One more bit of good stuff: Mark Leiter Jr., who (charitably) had not previously pitched well, threw two scoreless innings to wrap things up. Here’s the final out, a K of Vogelbach [VIDEO].
And so, once again, the complaint department is closed today. That was a tremendous amount of fun, and some great performances by guys who could very well be part of a future Cubs postseason team.
The Cubs took over third place in the NL Central with the win. Here’s hoping they don’t fall below that spot the rest of the year. They’ll go for the series sweep over the Pirates Wednesday evening at Wrigley Field. Drew Smyly will start for the Cubs and Mitch Keller gets the call for the Pirates. Game time is again 6:40 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via YouTube — I’ll have an article later this morning on how to watch tonight’s game.