Bryant's slam secret? 'Magic' jewelry

September 27th, 2020

CHICAGO -- kept his bat in hand as he jogged up the first-base line, watching and waiting to see whether the baseball he pulled deep down the left-field line would stay fair. When it stayed true, the third baseman dropped the stick, smiled and continued his trot.

Bryant launched a grand slam in the third inning of a 9-5 loss to the White Sox on Saturday night, when he returned to lineup following a bout with right oblique tightness. A few days after it was fair to wonder whether Bryant was out until the postseason, he looked more than fine in the batter's box.

"The dugout erupted," Cubs manager David Ross said. "It was nice. Kris had a nice smile on his face."

Bryant -- who tweaked his oblique with a swing on Monday against the Pirates -- singled and scored in the second inning against the South Siders. With two outs in the third, Bryant jumped on a hanging first-pitch breaking ball from Dane Dunning, sending it just inside the left-field pole and into the seats.

It marked Bryant's first home run since Aug. 12, when he went deep in Cleveland in his first at-bat after injuring his left wrist on a diving catch attempt. It has been that kind of injury-marred season for the 2016 National League MVP.

That made Saturday's showing -- on the night the Cubs clinched the NL Central crown -- a much-needed moment for Bryant.

"I feel like I've been waiting all year for one like that just to kind of fall right into my barrel," Bryant said. "That felt very good, and hopefully I've got a lot more of those over the next month here."

Bryant took some swings in a batting cage at Wrigley Field on Friday, and also added fielding work to his program. While Ross had been non-committal on Friday about Bryant playing one of the final two games, the third baseman continued to improve into Saturday and then impressed the manager with a powerful display in regular BP.

"Those are the swings we know he's capable of," Ross said.

Prior to Saturday's game, Bryant also tried some superstitious strategies. The third baseman went with high socks, and asked first baseman Anthony Rizzo to do the same. And then, Rizzo had another idea. Earlier this season, Rizzo donned two gold chains in an effort to not only to entertain his teammates, but also to hopefully run into some good luck.

Rizzo had a question for Bryant.

"I just had the feeling before the game," Rizzo said. "I go, 'Hey, you trust me right?' He's like, 'Yeah.' I go, 'All right, come with me.'"

Rizzo retrieved two gold chains that belong to Mike Napoli, the Cubs' quality assurance coach, and Bryant put them on for the game. Then, the third baseman connected for the single and the slam.

"Maybe I'll wear them until there's no magic left," Bryant quipped. "I'm not really a jewelry guy, especially not two big gold chains. But I'll do whatever works for the team."

Besides the oblique issue, Bryant had a minor back issue in Summer Camp and a left elbow problem early in the season. He missed time due to a stomach bug, and then the diving episode in Cleveland in August led to left wrist and finger injuries and a stint on the injured list.

Bryant's pile of health issues have undoubtedly played a role in his subpar slash line of .205/.289/.331 in 33 games this season. That has not stopped some fans from expressing harsh criticism over Bryant's season on social media.

Bryant had a message for those critics.

"I'm kind of over it," he said. "I feel like sometimes I go out there and I could go 4-for-4 and it's not good enough for some people. So I don't give a [crap]."

No matter what the numbers say, Rizzo said having Bryant back is critical for the Cubs with October looming.

"Kris is going to be a huge part of what we're doing in the postseason," Rizzo said.