Welcome back Willy: Contreras home run ends Cubs slide
The last time Willson Contreras was at Wrigley Field, he said goodbye. So Friday it was time to reintroduce himself.
This was an ending, had it been scripted, whose rough draft would have been rejected as too predictable. With the Cubs trailing in the eighth inning, Contreras deposited a 2-run homer into the left-field bleachers, creating a 2-1 victory over the Miami Marlins in his post-deadline return to Wrigley. The home run ended a five-game Cubs losing streak.
"Oh God, that was amazing," Contreras said in the clubhouse. "To be honest, I was looking forward to do something special right there. I know I had three tough at-bats earlier in the game, but the game isn't over until it's over and I was looking to do some damage."
The Contreras saga has dominated Cubs news for a few weeks. He thought he was headed toward the same fate as Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo last year, and would be traded before he hit free agency.
But he wasn't traded. So his first at-bat on Friday drew a nice ovation from fans, but it wasn't nearly as emotional as his last trip to the plate on July 26. Better yet, the sleepless nights are finally over.
"Now I feel relaxed," Contreras said. "The first day after the trade deadline was over, I was kind of tired. I came to the ballpark in St. Louis the day after and I told the guys my eyes are just tired. I wanted to be somewhere sleeping.
"Every time that I come up to bat, it was hard for me to focus on the moment. I was thinking of, 'Are they pulling me out of the game,' or things like that. I talked to Rossy (manager David Ross), I was like, 'I'm trying to do my best, it's not easy.'"
Prior to Contreras' home run, the Cubs had only 2 hits, both by Nick Madrigal. He led off the eighth with a single, putting him on base ahead of the home run.
This was Madrigal's second game back after missing nearly two months with a groin strain. He's hoping to finally find his rhythm at the plate.
"This time around, I feel a lot more like myself," Madrigal said. "My body's feeling the best it's felt all year."
The other star for the Cubs was starting pitcher Justin Steele, who lasted just 4 2/3 innings, but tied his career-high with 10 strikeouts. He finished with 93 pitches, and between the strikeouts and a lot of foul balls by Marlins hitters, Ross felt like Steele had reached his limit.
"As far as my four-seam and slider combination, today was the best day I've had with it all year," Steele said. "Felt good commanding the four-seam, both sides of the plate when I wanted to. Was able to throw the slider for strikes when I wanted to and back foot for swing-and-miss when I wanted to."
Steele was supposed to start Wednesday in St. Louis. But that game was rained out, so the Cubs decided to send him home Thursday for a little extra rest and time with his newborn son before this start.
According to the Cubs, it was just the second time in team history a starting pitcher recorded 10-plus strikeouts in 4.2 or fewer innings pitched. Bill Caudill also did it in 1979 against San Diego.
Marlins starter Edwin Cabrera didn't give up a hit through 5 innings, but left the game after 78 pitches. Cabrera was making his fourth start of the season since coming up from the minors and had thrown at least 90 pitches in each of his three previous starts.
Madrigal greeted reliever Huascar Brazoban with a bloop single to lead off the sixth. After a walk to Rafael Ortega and wild pitch, runners were on second and third with nobody out. But in a familiar story for the Cubs, the inning ended with three straight strikeouts. Contreras swung at a pitch in the dirt, then Patrick Wisdom and Ian Happ looked at called third strikes that were both a little questionable. Happ collected his 100th career double in the eighth inning.