Down to last out, Contreras completes Cubs' ninth-inning comeback
Through 26 outs on Sunday in Arizona, the Cubs were making a strong case for breaking up the team.
They couldn't break through against a suspect Diamondbacks bullpen and trailed 2-1 with two outs and nobody on in the ninth inning.
Then a little South American lightning and thunder turned the game around. In the span of four pitches, Rafael Ortega doubled, pinch-hitter Robinson Chirinos singled over shortstop Nick Ahmed to tie the game, then Willson Contreras blasted a 2-run home down the left-field line. Craig Kimbrel came in for the save and the Cubs won 4-2, their first victory this season when they trailed heading into the ninth.
"We've been waiting for some of those for a while," manager David Ross said. "It was nice. I saw that group we saw early on (this season) just not giving up, coming through, continue to fight."
There was a national theme to the comeback. Ortega, Chirinos and Contreras are all natives of Venezuela.
"It's really good to have Latin teammates, but I didn't realize that until the game was over," Contreras said. "It's not about Venezuelans, it's not about Americans. It's about winning this game, it's about the team that we have. I think we're looking forward to climbing to the top."
The first half ended for the Cubs with a thud -- a lopsided loss to St. Louis followed by Contreras questioning the team's effort. A week later, with some time off for the all-star break, it's possible Contreras' words hit home.
"We talk about it last week and they understood my point," Contreras said. "It's already over. I think we're starting from zero. I tell my guys, 'Let's start from zero, let's do it,' because I believe in this team. I believe in the talent we have.
"June was a tough month, but it's already over. We're looking to compete to the last out like we did today. When we're competing, we're tough to beat and that's the mindset that I'm trying to create for my teammates."
After Joc Pederson was traded to Atlanta on Thursday, Contreras was in the leadoff spot against a right-handed starter for a change. For most of the season, Contreras led off against lefties and Pederson against right-handers.
After the game, Ross talked about making sure he gets Contreras enough rest, which has been tough since the Cubs have gone through six backup catchers this season. Coming off the break, Contreras had 3 of the Cubs' 7 hits on Saturday.
"It's clear he's grinding really hard this year," Ross said. "For him to get his legs underneath him with the all-star break and come through like he did tonight -- that's the type of right-handed hitter he's capable of being."
Chirinos, 37, with his 10 years of major league experience, might be the backup the Cubs have been searching for. He came up with the clutch hit with a runner in scoring position Cubs hitters have struggled to bring home all year.
"Facing Joakim (Soria), I've played with him, I know how he likes to attack hitters," Chirinos said. "I was telling myself you don't need a homer right now, you just need a hit. Stay short. I was looking for that pitch and he threw it in the spot I was looking for. Thank God, I was able to hit it, the shortstop almost caught that ball."
Adbert Alzolay went 5 innings and looked better than he did in his last five starts of the first half. Both Arizona runs were earned, but they could have been prevented with some better Cubs fielding.
Trailing 2-0, the Cubs got on the board in the sixth inning on an RBI double by Javy Baez. But with runners on second and third with one out, Kris Bryant followed with a grounder to short and Anthony Rizzo was thrown out at the plate.