Happ stays hot, Heyward blast sends Cubs to another win
On the latest episode of his podcast, "The Compound," Ian Happ and Iowa Cubs pitcher Dakota Mekkes discussed a recent joke made about Happ's extended hitting slump.
When Happ finally lifted his season batting average above .200, Mekkes joked that it was time for Happ to invent a phantom hamstring injury and call it a year, so he wouldn't drop back down into the 100s.
Happ didn't necessarily appreciate Mekkes' humor, but he also seems to have the batting average milestone covered.
Happ homered for the third straight day, launching a first-inning blast that nearly landed on Sheffield Avenue. The Cubs won 4-1 in 10 innings on a walk off 3-run homer by Jason Heyward.
The surprisingly resurgent Cubs won for the eighth time in nine games and are 13-7 since Aug. 17.
"It's been a lot of fun from Day 1 with this group at the trade deadline," Heyward said. "I feel like all of us kind of came into the same situation together. We were all kind of thrown a big whirlwind.
"It's just been awesome to watch their work, watch their preparation, watch us help each other grow and now seeing us have some success, win some series, put up some great games against some really good teams that are trying to make it in.
"This is the first time in my career being in that position to play spoiler. It's a lot of fun playing good baseball, of course, but when you have some incentive to do it and do it together, it's really nice to see results."
A couple of months ago, it was questionable whether the Cubs would even tender a contract for next season to Happ, the team's first-round draft pick in 2015. At the all-star break, Happ was hitting .183 and struggling to catch up to velocity at the plate.
During the past two weeks, Happ is hitting .370. He can't claim the title of Cubs' Hottest Hitter with Frank Schwindel around, but over the past 30 days, Happ's 1.062 OPS is 10th best in the majors. His home run was No. 21 on the season.
Before the game, interim manager Andy Green talked about the adjustments he's seen.
"Just my opinion watching him is he's been more aggressive early in the count," Green said of Happ. "His contact point has moved a little bit further out in front, (which) usually gets hit in the air a little more consistently. He's been willing to take chances and trust himself.
"Anybody that plays baseball at a high level, you go through a point in time where you're not quite trusting yourself and you're triggering late and your contact point is off from what it normally is because of that. What you're seeing from him right now is just growing confidence and being who he's always been."
Starting pitcher Alec Mills delivered a solid performance, allowing just 4 hits over 6 innings. Rowan Wick pitched 2 scoreless innings, then Codi Heuer came on to not only retire the side in the ninth but shut down the Reds in the 10th with the automatic runner never moving from second base.
Patrick Wisdom led off the 10th with a sharp single to left field and extra-inning runner Willson Contreras played it safe, stopping at third. The Reds brought in Nick Castellanos as a fifth infielder, but Heyward made that move irrelevant with a drive that might have cleared the scoreboard in right.
The Reds tied the game in the fourth inning on a Joey Votto solo home run. The Cubs, meanwhile, had trouble generating much offense. After Happ's home run, Sergio Alcantara reached on a bunt single in the second inning. The Cubs didn't collect their third hit until Wisdom's single in the 10th.
"That's a fun way to end a baseball games, with a guy as good as JayHey hitting a baseball like that," Green said. "We hit two bombs today. Those two were hit about as far as you see a home run hit here. I think we did two bombs, a bunt and a bloop, and the rest of the day we were kind of quiet of offense."