Braves' wild walk-off win real family affair

Contreras logs clutch hit in 9th with parents watching him in bigs for first time

May 25th, 2022

ATLANTA -- William and Olga Contreras have seen one of their sons earn two All-Star selections and establish himself as one of baseball’s top catchers. Now, they can proudly say they have also seen their younger son produce one of the first great moments of his young Major League career.

Approximately 20 minutes after tallying a walk-off single that gave the Braves a wild 6-5 comeback win over the Phillies on Tuesday night at Truist Park, William Contreras proudly talked about his family. This was the first big league game his parents had ever seen him play. And his older brother, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, was enjoying the moment from afar.

“It’s beyond emotional,” the walk-off hero said through an interpreter. “I’m just ready to get out of here and go home with them.”

When Contreras and his parents reminisce about this great moment, they will draw memories from a great comeback. Bryce Harper gave the Phillies a one-run lead when he hit a one-out, two-run homer off closer Kenley Jansen in the top of the ninth. But chaos reigned after Jansen blew a second save opportunity in less than a week.

Dansby Swanson began the bottom of the ninth with an opposite-field double and scored when Phillies center fielder Roman Quinn allowed Ronald Acuña Jr.’s routine fly ball to drop. Acuña advanced to second on the error and scored when Contreras followed with his game-ending liner to center -- his first career walk-off hit.

“It felt like, 'This is the moment right here," Contreras said. "I looked at Ronald and kind of motioned to him like, ‘This is it, we’re going to win it right here. So be ready.’ Fortunately, we were able to do it.”

Though he has fewer than 250 career plate appearances, Contreras has quickly gained a strong level of confidence. COVID forced him to make his MLB debut much earlier than expected at the start of the 2020 season and Travis d’Arnaud’s thumb injury again forced him to prematurely become Atlanta’s primary catcher for a couple months in 2021.

Contreras has improved defensively behind the plate, but more importantly, his bat is too strong to keep out of the lineup. He has homered six times through this year’s first 42 at-bats. So, on Monday, he was put in left field despite just two games as an outfielder during his professional career. Tuesday he served as the designated hitter and Wednesday, he’ll be behind the plate.

“[The Contreras brothers] are pretty similar athletes and hitters,” first baseman Matt Olson said. “[William] has been putting together some really good at-bats. To show the power he has in the limited number of at-bats has been pretty impressive. He’s hit some balls to right field that lefties don’t hit that [far or hard].”

When the Braves staged Summer Camp at Truist Park before the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Contreras was a 22-year-old catcher, who had played just 60 games above the High-A level. He had never previously shown a lot of power. But as he drilled balls into the right-center-field seats with regularity during intrasquad games, it was apparent he had worked hard during the shutdown.

After the sports world was shut down in March, William joined his brother, Willson, in the Orlando, Fla., area and worked out with him on a daily basis. With one of their exercises, they filled a toy bazooka gun with rubber balls and essentially created their own pitching machine, which they used in their driveway.

“It was honestly the most time we’ve ever been able to spend together,” Contreras said. “It was really beneficial. He’s my brother. He’s not going to try to hurt me or hold me back. He’s just trying to help me. He kept giving me advice and working on things to get better.”

When the Cubs played the Braves in April, William Contreras was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett for the series finale. The brothers still haven’t played in a game together. But that night, they enjoyed the chance to exchange lineup cards at home plate.

Now the Contreras family has another moment to forever savor.

“The best bit of advice [from my brother] is to never give up and keep fighting,” William Contreras said. “Today was a perfect example. I was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. You start doubting yourself and thinking this is one of those days where things aren’t going my way. Fortunately, I was able to come up in that spot.”