Crow-Armstrong's 1st hit? A go-ahead two-run blast

April 25th, 2024

CHICAGO -- As sprinted and shouted his way around the basepaths on Thursday afternoon, Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson headed up the dugout steps to await the rookie’s return. When the kid arrived, the veteran embraced him in a hug amid the roar from the Wrigley Field crowd.

The first hit of Crow-Armstrong’s career proved worth the wait.

“Freeing,” Crow-Armstrong said. “Freeing, for sure.”

In the sixth inning of a 3-1 win over the Astros, Crow-Armstrong did what Major League hitters are supposed to do with 95 mph fastballs down the middle. He turned on the heater and launched a no-doubt, two-run shot high over right field, where Houston’s Kyle Tucker quickly abandoned his pursuit and watched the ball carry into the bleachers.

The home run off reliever Bryan Abreu not only put the Cubs ahead, but snapped an 0-for-16 start to Crow-Armstrong’s career, dating back to his stint with the ballclub down the stretch last season. The blast rocketed off the young outfielder’s bat at 107.2 mph, per Statcast, which also noted that the shot would have been a homer in every big league ballpark. No kidding.

“Unbelievable,” Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner said. “To turn around a fastball like that on a day when pretty much everything in the air was going 30 feet shorter than it was supposed to -- I mean, that ball is supposed to go out on the street almost and it’s three rows deep -- to hit a no-doubt homer on a day like that, incredibly impressive.”

Crow-Armstrong became the 25th Cubs player in the Expansion Era (since 1961) to belt a homer for career hit No. 1. Christopher Morel (May 17, 2022), Ian Happ (May 13, 2017), Willson Contreras (June 19, 2016), Jorge Soler (Aug. 27, 2014) and Javier Báez (Aug. 5, 2014) are the last five to achieve that feat.

It was the kind of instant impact the Cubs can use right now, considering Crow-Armstrong’s arrival from Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday came out of necessity. Center fielder Cody Bellinger landed on the injured list due to a pair of fractured ribs in his right side, joining right fielder Seiya Suzuki (right oblique strain).

The 22-year-old Crow-Armstrong reported to Wrigley Field as Pipeline’s top-ranked Cubs prospect and the No. 15-ranked prospect in all of baseball. Those types of labels can add a layer of expectations on players within a game that is already physically and mentally challenging.

When Cubs manager Craig Counsell sat down with Crow-Armstrong on Wednesday, part of the conversation with the young outfielder centered around forgetting about all the hype and pressure, and just being himself.

“Do what you're good at and that's enough for this team. That'll help us win,” Counsell said of his message to Crow-Armstrong. “It’s all we're asking for. Today, he made a big contribution, but he can make small contributions and those will be enough at this stage of his career.”

Crow-Armstrong was asked if the “freeing” nature of his home run would help that process of relaxing and just being himself on the field.

“I should’ve done that before,” the rookie said with a smile. “That’s what everybody was encouraging me to do. My boneheaded self finally decided to listen, I guess.”

After striking out against Justin Verlander in his first two at-bats, Crow-Armstrong said conversations he had in the dugout helped set him up for his battle with Abreu. At first, the rookie was set to bunt with the score knotted, 1-1, in the sixth inning, but Abreu uncorked a wild pitch that moved Miguel Amaya up to second base.

“Free at-bat,” Hoerner said.

Crow-Armstrong attacked the next pitch, recoiling on the swing to take a moment to watch the baseball in flight. After he made his way around the bases, the response from his teammates is what meant the most.

“That was by far the best part of that hit, that swing, all of that,” Crow-Armstrong said, “was getting to embrace the people that have been in my corner.”

That included Swanson, who has taken the rookie under his wing since last season.

“It’s a hug,” Counsell said. “But it’s a little different hug, right? It meant something.”

“It’s kind of even hard to put into words,” Swanson said. “He cares so much. He works so hard. He wants to do so well and has got a great heart. It's just such an impactful moment, not only for him, but just for all of us, as well.”