WASHINGTON -- On a night of wall-scraping home runs, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras hit one Saturday that nearly scraped the sky.With a soaring homer in the top of the second off of Giovany Gonzalez, Contreras opened Chicago's scoring in a 6-3 loss to the Nationals in Game 2 of the
WASHINGTON -- On a night of wall-scraping home runs, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras hit one Saturday that nearly scraped the sky.
With a soaring homer in the top of the second off of Giovany Gonzalez, Contreras opened Chicago's scoring in a 6-3 loss to the Nationals in Game 2 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile. The homer's 45-degree launch angle is the highest of Contreras' career and of any Cubs player since Statcast™ was introduced in 2015.
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It is also tied for the seventh-highest launch angle by any player in 2017, two degrees shy of the season-high 47 degrees reached by Paul Goldschmidt, Mike Napoli and Tommy Joseph.
Despite the height, it was not hit deep, at least as home runs go. Nationals left fielder Jayson Werth initially broke in to make the catch, only to streak back as the ball carried. It traveled a projected distance of 352 feet, according to Statcast™, for the shortest, by nine feet, of Contreras' 22 home runs between the regular season and postseason. It also would have been the seventh-shortest home run among the more than 200 hit at Nationals Park in the regular season. But it wasn't even the shortest in Saturday's game.
A half-inning before Contreras' arching shot, Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon stroked a liner over the fence in the right-field corner. At a projected 349 feet, it was Rendon's shortest home run of 2017, but it was more than enough to give the Nationals their first lead of the series.
In the eighth, when Washington's Ryan Zimmerman delivered a tiebreaking three-run homer that sent Nationals Park into euphoria, the ball narrowly cleared the fence. A launch angle of 38 degrees left doubts in Zimmerman's mind.
"I knew I hit it pretty good, but I hit it really high," Zimmerman said. "Contreras hit one earlier in the game kind of similar, hit it really high and then it just kept going."
The high homers weren't all that connected Zimmerman and Contreras on Saturday. In the fifth, Zimmerman broke for second as Cubs starter Jonathan Lester made his pitch, sliding in safely ahead of Contreras' throw. But little blame could go to Contreras, whose 1.84 pop time to second was his fourth-fastest this season.
Unlike Zimmerman, Contreras never questioned his long ball. Shortly after contact, he released his bat in mic-drop fashion, certain he'd tied the game.
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It was the second postseason home run of Contreras' career. The previous came against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in Chicago's decisive 5-0 victory in Game 6 of last season's NL Championship Series. Contreras, who walked twice in Saturday's game, is slashing .250/.353/.432 in his playoff career and has a .500 on-base percentage through two games this postseason.
Even on a warm fall evening, when it was 82 degrees at first pitch, Nationals manager Dusty Baker was hesitant on each of the three homers.
"The ball was flying tonight," Baker said. "I didn't think Anthony's homer was going to leave the park, and I really wasn't sure about Zim's, and I wasn't sure about Contreras'. On a warm night, it carries good here."
The Cubs hope to not return here, but to continue their postseason journey elsewhere. With the series tied a one game apiece, the potential exists for Chicago to close out the series with a pair of victories at Wrigley Field.
More moonshots from Contreras certainly won't hurt that effort.
Nathan Ruiz is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington.