CHICAGO -- The way Cubs manager Joe Maddon read the situation, it was just one of those fluke plays that happens throughout the course of a long baseball season. The Wrigley Field crowd was loud, Sunday’s wind made the noise level worse and therefore Kris Bryant must not have heard Jason Heyward calling for the deep fly ball to center.
Now, Cubs fans will hold their breath until the team provides a detailed update on Bryant, who left Sunday's 10-2 loss to the Reds after colliding with Heyward in the sixth inning. Bryant was hit on the side of the head and neck on the play but was cleared to travel with the team to Houston for its Memorial Day game against the Astros Monday afternoon, though he was not in the lineup.
"He's doing OK. He's still under evaluation," Maddon said moments after the loss. "We don't know exactly what we're dealing with with this whole thing yet. But we're trying to talk with the docs and him to find out exactly where we're at. So, I don't have anything new to report yet."
The Cubs will have more on Bryant's status for the series against Houston prior to Monday's game.
The Cubs were already in a 6-0 hole when Eugenio Suárez sent the ill-fated pitch from Carl Edwards Jr. to deep right-center field. For this game, Maddon opted to give center fielder Albert Almora Jr. a day off, meaning Heyward manned center and Bryant got the nod in right. While Bryant mostly plays third base (30 starts), he has started games in left (six) and right (eight) this season as well.
Heyward sprinted to his left and Bryant to his right. According to Statcast, the catch probability was 80 percent for the center fielder and 99 percent for the right fielder. That said, Heyward gets priority as the center fielder and he called for the ball and was in position to make the catch. Bryant did not slow down and raised his arms to brace for impact, while the ball nicked off Heyward's glove and dropped to the grass.
On replays, it appeared that Heyward's right arm struck Bryant in the head and neck area, sending the right fielder tumbling to the warning track. After the play, Bryant shifted to one knee as Heyward checked on him. Maddon and a member of the Cubs' medical team then made their way out for a quick conversation, which led to Bryant walking slowly off the field under his own power.
"It is loud," Maddon said. "Even when I got out there to see him, my goodness, everything's like right in your face. And I can see where it'd be very difficult to hear one another. It's just a combination of things. It's probably the first time I think we've done that all year. It's going to happen at some point."
One way or another, Chicago will likely need to make a roster move prior to Monday's game. Over the past two days, the Cubs were playing with a short bench and carrying nine relief pitchers to help a fatigued bullpen. If Bryant needs to rest at least one game, the Cubs will probably need a reinforcement from Triple-A Iowa. Chicago will also have the designated hitter available during the series in Houston.
Bryant was in the Cubs' locker room after the game, but he was not permitted to speak with the media while still under evaluation. Heyward held court and received eight questions about the play. He kept his replies short and said three times that reporters should talk to Bryant.
Heyward did make one thing clear.
"I called for the ball," he said.
The Cubs can ill afford to lose Bryant for much time. Last year, when Bryant dealt with a left shoulder injury, his slugging percentage plummeted, he missed time and Chicago's lineup suffered as a result. He got off to a rough start this season, hitting .221 with a .691 OPS through April 23. Over his past 30 games, though, Bryant has returned to MVP-caliber form, turning in a .327/.449/.718 slash line during that time period.
Bryant went 0-for-3 with a strikeout in Sunday's loss -- a game Maddon said is "already in the trash can" -- but he is batting .283/.405/.567 in 50 games on the season. That performance to date has included 12 home runs, 15 doubles, 34 RBIs, 42 runs scored and nearly as many walks (33) as strikeouts (37).
A kneejerk reaction would be to think Sunday's incident occurred because Bryant does not have as much experience in the outfield. Maddon said that simply is not the case.
"I've seen some really stable outfielders, guys that are there all the time, do the same thing," Maddon said. "They've been out there before together. Heyward's been in center and KB's been in right. It's just … it happened. It happened. It happens in our game. It's going to happen again -- hopefully not for a while. But I don't worry about stuff like that."