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Willson! Walk-off HR puts Cubs alone in 1st

@MLBastian
May 11, 2019

CHICAGO -- Willson Contreras spun around and looked in the direction of the Cubs' dugout, where his teammates had their arms skyward and were ready to leap over the railing. The catcher tossed his bat away as the baseball he just crushed ripped through the rain and rattled at the

CHICAGO -- Willson Contreras spun around and looked in the direction of the Cubs' dugout, where his teammates had their arms skyward and were ready to leap over the railing. The catcher tossed his bat away as the baseball he just crushed ripped through the rain and rattled at the back of the left-field bleachers.

The 15-inning marathon was over, and the Cubs were back atop the National League Central by themselves.

"I'm a little bit tired. I'm not going to lie," Contreras said after lifting Chicago to a grueling 2-1 walk-off win over the Brewers on Saturday. "I'm a little bit tired, but my mind was ready to keep going."

Box score

Considering manager Joe Maddon had reached the “Which position player will pitch?” portion of the afternoon, everyone in the home clubhouse was glad the game ended. Contreras' walk-off home run off Milwaukee reliever Burch Smith came on the 467th pitch of the day and after the catcher worked all 15 innings behind the plate. His blast ended the longest game ever at Wrigley Field between the two rivals.

The clip that will be played over and over as part of future 2019 highlight montages will be Contreras' winner. After all, it marked the third walk-off home run in the span of five games for the rolling North Siders. But there were multiple factors that paved the way for the Cubs' 11th win in their last 13 games.

Grounding the Brewers
Cubs starter Cole Hamels issued a leadoff walk to Yasmani Grandal in the second inning, but he then escaped any harm via a pair of ground balls that generated three outs. As it turned out, that early moment in the game proved to be foreshadowing for what developed into a record-setting game of sorts.

The Brewers put the leadoff man aboard four times against Hamels, who induced double plays shortly thereafter at each turn. Hamels created 13 total ground-ball outs, including the four double plays, which falls one shy of tying the record for a single Cubs pitcher in a single game. The lefty ended with one run allowed over seven innings.

"That's Cole-esque," Cubs second baseman David Bote said. "It was like the Pittsburgh game last year."

Bote was referring to Aug. 17, 2018, when Hamels was the one who set the Cubs mark by a single pitcher with five ground-ball double plays. Chicago finished with a club-record (since 1908) six ground-ball double plays in that nine-inning game and tied an MLB record with seven overall double plays. Against Milwaukee on Saturday, the Cubs ended with 19 outs via grounders, including six double plays (tying a Brewers single-game record).

Combined, the Brewers -- who only had four hits -- and Cubs tied an MLB record for double plays of any type in a single game (10) but with nine ground-ball double plays fell one shy of that record.

Entering the afternoon, the Cubs' pitching staff led MLB with a 51.2 ground-ball rate.

"Our pitchers put the ball on the ground," Maddon said. "We've been doing that. I think we are very highly rated with that overall, our staff. They keep getting better."

Hustling for home
The Cubs were struggling to break through against Brewers starter Zach Davies, but a window of opportunity cracked open when Bote reached on a two-out infield single in the fifth inning.

With Milwaukee holding a 1-0 lead, Albert Almora Jr. then flared a pitch from Davies into the right-center-field gap. It was hit just softly enough -- an 85.3 mph exit velocity, per Statcast -- to give Bote a chance to make something happen. He was off on contact and picked up third-base coach Will Venable around second base.

"Two strikes, two outs, I'm going on the swing," Bote said. "As soon as he starts to swing, you just take off. It's right in front of Will. He's right there. He let me know early that we were going. In my head, I'm like, 'Score.' I go until he stops me. About halfway through to third, I see him going, 'Hey, we're going.' It wasn't a hesitation. He was convicted by it."

Venable -- filling in for third-base coach Brian Butterfield -- waved Bote home, and he arrived there around the same time as the relay throw.

"I got it clean, got it in," Brewers right fielder Christian Yelich said. "He was out by a lot -- just a good slide."

Grandal gloved the ball and lunged to tag Bote, who dived away from the catcher and swiped the plate with his right hand. That pulled the game into a 1-1 deadlock and Bote reacted accordingly, letting out a yell from his knees after scoring. The timing was critical, as Hamels was due to bat next for Chicago.

"Tremendous," Maddon said of Venable's decision to send Bote. "He knew he was on-deck. He knew the outs situation. He knew everything about it. Bote had it in his head, also. Albert with a nice piece of hitting right there. Yes, that was absolutely the right thing to do, and I know Butter was very proud of the whole moment."

Chatwood steps up
Cubs pitcher Tyler Chatwood laughed when asked how many more innings he had in him on Saturday.

"I couldn't tell you," Chatwood said. "I didn't have much. After the second inning, I was actually pretty tired."

Chatwood took over for the Cubs in the 12th inning after Maddon had gone through the rest of his bullpen. Left-hander Mike Montgomery was the lone arm that was unavailable, given that he threw 71 pitches in relief on Tuesday. It was Chatwood's turn to go multiple innings, and the right-hander answered the call with 68 pitches (41 strikes) over four hitless frames.

"He's got tremendous stuff," Hamels said. "Some of the best stuff I've ever seen."

Chatwood averaged 95.4 mph with his four-seamer, topping out at 97 mph. He got seven swings-and-misses and another 18 called strikes against the Brewers. He walked three but sidestepped any potential damage with seven strikeouts on his final line. Chatwood now has two wins this season, and both came as part of 15-inning Cubs victories.

"That command's getting better and better and better," Maddon said. "You're still seeing out of the zone once in a while, but he's able to get back. And man, it's electric stuff."

In the 13th inning, with only backup catcher Taylor Davis available off the bench, Chatwood was allowed to hit after the Brewers intentionally walked two batters to load the bases with one out. Chatwood struck out and Addison Russell followed suit, but the pitcher then logged two more innings. Maddon said he might have given Chatwood one more before turning to Davis as the last-resort option.

Contreras rendered that situation moot with his blast.

"It's awesome," Chatwood said. "Hopefully, we can do it earlier, but we won. That's all that matters."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.