CHICAGO – It was a day of milestones and bobbleheads on Friday afternoon for Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras. After pulling off a rare feat, hitting two triples in the Cubs’ last game, Contreras picked up where he left off, hitting two home runs – including a first inning grand slam — and driving in seven in the Cubs’ 11-2 win over the White Sox.
“We all knew that it was coming,” winning pitcher Tyler Chatwood said after the game. “It was just a matter of time before he broke through a little bit. It was nice to see.”
Contreras raised his OPS from .669 to .831 in just two games. His first blast on Friday came not long after chilly fans were handed a bobblehead of Contreras as they entered Wrigley Field, where the temperature was just 49 degrees at game time. Subsequently, the catcher’s bat provided the heat the Cubs needed for their fourth win in a row.
“I’m thankful to the team for giving me my bobblehead day, but I’m just glad I was able to keep everything simple,” Contreras said through his interpreter. “That was my approach today.”
The Cubs have been streaky lately, winning five then losing five before this four-game win streak began. A shaky offense has woken up as they’ve scored 42 runs in four games as the heart of the order has been on fire. Kris Bryant was on-base five times on Friday while Anthony Rizzo has been sizzling this month. He reached three times. But it’s Contreras who carried the team the last two days, just as he did much of last August, before injuring a hamstring. After a slow start this season, he’s picked up his game – especially this week.
“The last two games have been two of my best so far, but just like I’ve had two really good back-to-back games, I’ve also had some games where I’ve made solid contact but hit it at people,” Contreras said.
Consider the milestones for Contreras:
• He’s the third catcher in the Live Ball Era, which started in 1920, with at least four extra base hits and seven RBI in a game, joining Mike Piazza (1995) and fellow Cubs catcher George Mitterwald (1974).
• Contreras is just the fouth NL player in the Live Ball Era — and the first since 1999 — with multiple doubles and home runs and seven or more RBI in a game.
• Contreras is the fifth player all-time with four extra base hits and seven RBI in a game at Wrigley Field. Three of the previous four to accomplish that feat are in the Hall of Fame.
• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Contreras is the first Cubs catcher with 20 or more total bases in a two-game span since Randy Hundley on August 10-11, 1966 .
On top of it all, Contreras picked off a runner from second as the White Sox were attempting to get back into the game, down just 5-0 at the time. Then came his second home run and a double with the bases loaded. The route was on.
“Baseball is a game of ups and downs,” Contreras said. “It was just a matter of getting into the right rhythm.”
After the game, manager Joe Maddon went into a lengthy dissertation, describing what’s clicking for Contreras. It involves driving the ball to left center – that’s where his first home run went – as well as using the opposite the field – his later double was hit down the right-field line.
“He’s getting the ball on the barrel,” Maddon said. “My take on him is when he’s driving the ball in that (left-center) gap he’s probably on top of his game.”
After the manager was done with his long explanation, he was asked how much of it all was due to his bobblehead. Not many players have a day like Contreras did the same day that are commemorated with a bobblehead.
“More than anything I just said (about the mechanics of hitting), that’s absolutely correct,” Maddon quipped. “It had everything to do with the bobblehead.”