'We feed off him': Morel extends historic start

June 8th, 2022

BALTIMORE -- It hasn’t taken  much time at all to make his mark in the Majors.

It took him only one pitch to introduce himself to the Charm City. Then, he kept carving his place in the Cubs' record book.

Chicago's rookie sensation was at it again Tuesday night, adding to his growing personal highlight reel in the Cubs' 9-3 loss to the Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Morel homered on the first pitch of the game and showed off his blazing speed by tripling later on what was an otherwise rough night in Chicago's first game in Baltimore in nearly five years.

“That’s the spark he brings,” manager David Ross said. “He’s ready to go when he steps in the box. He’s ready to play baseball. He’s excited to be in there. He’s ready to hit at all times. He’s done a nice job at swinging at strikes, and he’s got that kind of power to lead it off. He’s a real dynamic-type player.”

Morel has reached base safely in 21 consecutive games to begin his big league career, extending his own franchise record. It’s also the longest streak to begin a career of any active Major Leaguer, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The last player with a longer streak to begin his career was Rocco Baldelli (24 games) in 2003.

The Cubs’ previous record of 13 was held by Willson Contreras, who got in on the action by jolting a 114 mph, 437-foot solo homer of his own off O's starter Kyle Bradish in the fifth.

“He’s swinging from pitch one, and I love to see that,” Contreras said. “Watching Morel hit a homer makes me happy, because of how far he’s come in his life and career. He’s a nice guy and brings a lot of energy, and we feed off him.”

But there were few other highlights on a tough night for Cubs starter Keegan Thompson, who coughed up three homers and a season-high seven runs en route to his first loss of the season. The first went to Cedric Mullins, who followed Morel’s leadoff homer in the top of the first with one of his own in the bottom half.

For the Cubs, it was the first time both they and their opponent hit a leadoff homer since Aug. 29, 2020, in Cincinnati, when Joey Votto and Ian Happ did it. The O's hadn't had it happen since Aug. 19, 2016, against the Astros.

Prior to Tuesday, Thompson had allowed multiple runs in only two of his 12 outings while emerging as a valuable swingman. Veteran righty Alec Mills logged five innings of two-run ball behind Thompson in his season debut after missing the first two months of the season rehabbing from back and quad issues.

“They didn’t miss the pitches in the middle of the plate they shouldn’t miss,” Thompson said. “And it hurt me.”

That left the theatrics to Morel, who connected for his first career leadoff homer with a 429-foot rocket that came off the bat at 109.3 mph and sailed over Oriole Park’s new 13-foot wall in left field. Morel scored Jason Heyward with his RBI triple to the wall in right-center in the sixth, motoring around the bases for his second three-bagger in three electrifying weeks in the big leagues.

At 22 years and 348 days old, Morel became the ninth youngest Cubs player to homer and triple in the same game, and the youngest since Starlin Castro on June 8, 2012. Morel's the first Cubs rookie to homer and triple since Robel Garcia on July 4, 2019, against the Pirates.

All told, Morel is slashing .298/.381/.524 with 11 extra-base hits and 16 runs scored in 21 games, emerging as a breakout star with center fielder Seiya Suzuki sidelined with injury.

It’ll still be at least a few days until Suzuki works his way back from his sprained left ring finger. He completed a full slate of on-field baseball activities Tuesday afternoon at Oriole Park. And Morel’s emergence will force the Cubs to make decisions on their veteran outfield alignment once Suzuki returns.

But the versatile white-hot rookie isn’t going anywhere. He’s taken the spotlight by storm and doesn’t show signs of slowing down.

“I think it’s so healthy, and good for us as a group, that he sets that tone for us at the top,” Ross said.