July 6, 2022

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Contreras' 100th HR a 1st-inning grand slam … batting leadoff?!

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CHICAGO — As Willson Contreras rounded second base on Monday night, he began waving emphatically in the direction of Wrigley Field’s packed bleachers. The Cubs star certainly waved hello to some history, too.

In a wild first inning, Contreras launched a grand slam off Pirates pitcher Bryse Wilson, powering the North Siders to an eight-run frame and a 9-0 win over the Pirates. The blast was not only the 100th of his career, but came in his second at-bat of the night as the leadoff man.

“The grand slam was an amazing moment for me and the team and the fans,” Contreras said. “It was just great. I was trying to enjoy the moment, every little second of it. I’m really proud of what I’m doing.”

Contreras became just the 10th Major League player since 1901 to belt a grand slam in the first inning while hitting atop a lineup. George Springer was the last to achieve the rare feat, doing so on June 24, 2016, while with the Astros.

After the game, Contreras took some photos with the fan who caught the baseball, and then traded a couple baseballs and a bat to secure it. The catcher planned on presenting his 100th home run ball to his father, Wuiliam, given the role he played in helping Contreras reach the big leagues.

“The road is not easy,” Contreras said. “It’s one of those days that made me think of my childhood, where I came from and it makes me proud.”

A number of things have to fall into place for a leadoff man to find himself in that position in an opening frame. And, well, a lot went right for Chicago in its first inning against Pittsburgh.

Contreras actually got things rolling for the Cubs when he opened the inning with a lined double off Pirates lefty Dillon Peters. That shot caromed off the right-center field wall, which now featured Wrigley’s famous ivy in full bloom for the first time this season.

Contreras’ leadoff double helped ignite an eight-run, eight-hit first inning for the Cubs. The switch-hitting Ian Happ had hits from both sides of the plate. Yan Gomes knocked in a run. Andrelton Simmons’ first at-bat for Chicago resulted in an RBI infield single. Rafael Ortega drew a bases-loaded walk.

It was an overwhelming sequence that set the stage for Contreras’ heroics.

Facing Wilson, Contreras attacked the first pitch, drilling it into the left-center bleachers for his fourth career grand slam. Among Cubs catchers in team history, Contreras trails only Gabby Hartnett (231) and Jody Davis (122) for career home runs.

“It’s good to know that,” Contreras said of the historic nature of his first-inning performance. “But it’s better when you know that you’re the third Cub that has hit 100 homers as a catcher. Making history for this team makes me proud.”

Contreras became the first Cubs batter to have a pair of extra-base hits in the same inning since Javier Báez on May 1, 2019. In the second inning against the Mariners on that date, Báez homered and doubled for Chicago. Springer was the last MLB player to have a grand slam and another extra-base hit in the first inning (during that June 24, 2016, game).

Per the Elias Sports Bureau, Frank “Wildfire” Schulte was the last Cubs hitter to have a grand slam and a double in the same inning. Schulte’s feat was in the fourth on Aug. 16, 1911, against the Boston Rustlers. The last Major Leaguer to turn that trick was Minnesota’s Royce Lewis, who doubled and hit a slam in the fifth inning on Friday against Cleveland.

The hits by Contreras also come amid an incredible hot streak for the catcher, who entered the game batting .423 (11-for-26) with a 1.290 OPS in his last eight games. In that span, he had three extra-base hits, three RBIs, four strikeouts, five walks and was hit by a pitch three times. After just the first inning, Contreras boosted his season OPS to .931 from .872.

“That guy’s unbelievable, man,” said Gomes, who started behind the plate Monday with Contreras serving as the designated hitter. “He’s probably one of the better players in this game. And you can see, when he gets hot, it’s not just like a couple base hits. There’s no stadium that can hold him.”

Over the weekend, Cubs manager David Ross declared that, “this is as good as I think I may have ever seen Willson.” That is saying something, given the fact that Ross’ relationship with Contreras dates back to their days as teammates on the 2016 ballclub.

As it happens, it was on May 27, 2016, that Ross hit his 100th career home run — also at Wrigley Field. Watching Contreras’ milestone moment on Monday night had his manager reminiscing.

“It took me a lot longer to do it, obviously,” said Ross, chuckling. “I laugh, just because it was a big deal at the back end of my career. His career’s just getting started. He’s gotten to do a lot of cool things early on in his career. That’s why he’s such a special player.”

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