Morel's stunning walk-off blast puts Cubs into Wild Card position

August 17th, 2023

CHICAGO -- ’s helmet slid to a stop deep into the infield dirt at shortstop. His jersey was ripped off and left behind in the grass in foul territory just beyond third base. Morel’s Cubs teammates awaited him at the plate, as bedlam broke out at Wrigley Field on Wednesday night.

A season already full of drama for this team has its latest wild chapter.

“It’s a moment I can’t even translate into English,” Morel said via team interpreter Fredy Quevedo. “I’m definitely very, very happy. Very excited.”

Morel delivered a 4-3 victory over the rival White Sox with a three-run, walk-off home run that had the fans in a frenzy that shook the old ballpark at Clark and Addison. It was an improbable, rapid-fire ninth inning that continued what has been a furious climb back into contention for the North Siders.

As things stand, the Cubs sit in the third National League Wild Card slot, and are 2.5 games behind the NL Central-leading Brewers. With head-to-head record determining tiebreakers in the standings, Cincinnati has the edge on Chicago, 5-4, with four games remaining between the clubs from Sept. 1-3. The Marlins won the season series against the Cubs, 4-2.

The Cubs took three of four in the cross-town series with the White Sox and have now won 20 of 30 games in the second half. The Cubs have also picked up 11 wins in their past 14 games at the Friendly Confines, though this was the kind of victory fans of the North Siders will remember for ages.

“You can feel there's something kind of brewing in this clubhouse,” Cubs infielder Nick Madrigal said. “Games like this, to pull those out when it wasn't looking good for most of the game, that's when you know you've got special teams.”

Madrigal was right. For most of the night, White Sox righty Mike Clevinger shut down the Cubs’ offense and the South Siders carried a 3-0 lead into the eighth inning. In the top half of that frame, things looked dire for the Cubs when their rivals loaded the bases with no outs.

At that crucial juncture, Cubs manager David Ross summoned veteran righty Michael Fulmer from the bullpen with the Nos. 3-5 hitters due up for the White Sox.

Fulmer, who has a 1.65 ERA in his past 30 appearances as a setup man for the Cubs, answered the call. The right-hander struck out Luis Robert Jr., Yoán Moncada and Andrew Vaughn on 11 pitches to pull off one of the escapes of the season for the North Siders.

“It’s probably going to go unsung,” Ross said. “But, Michael Fulmer -- wow. What a big outing for him. That was huge for us.”

Then in the home half of the eighth, Ross called Madrigal off the bench to pinch-hit for catcher Tucker Barnhart. Madrigal, who had three career blasts in 764 plate appearances, launched an 0-2 pitch from lefty Aaron Bummer to left, where it dropped into the basket for a leadoff homer.

“Nick Madrigal hit a home run,” Morel said. “Once I saw that, I said to myself, ‘This game is ours.’”

The top of the ninth ended with Elvis Andrus trying to stretch a two-out single to left into a double for the White Sox. Gold Glove left fielder Ian Happ came up firing with a precise, one-hop throw to second baseman Nico Hoerner, who applied the tag to erase the runner, end the inning and setting up the heroics.

Facing the hard-throwing Gregory Santos, Cody Bellinger led off with a double that carried to the wall in left-center. Dansby Swanson followed with a walk to put a pair on with no outs. That set the stage for Morel.

“Everybody knows that they’re going to get a show when Morel’s up,” Fulmer said.

Morel swung through two pitches before taking a slider, working to a 1-2 count.

“He didn’t swing at it,” Santos said. “It’s like, ‘Well, let’s attack him again.’”

On Tuesday night, Santos struck Morel out on three pitches.

“That wasn’t going to happen again,” Morel said. “I knew that was my moment. That was my time.”

Morel sent a 100 mph sinker rocketing over right-center field, raising his right arm as he made his way up the first-base line. When the ball reached the bleachers and the decibel level skyrocketed, Morel thrust both arms skyward, throwing away his helmet around second and tearing off his jersey by third.

“He wasn’t all there for a second -- out of body,” Madrigal quipped.

What was Morel thinking?

“Cubs win,” he said with a smile. “That was the only thing I had on my mind.”