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Nine alive! Schwarber slugs first career slam

Moved to bottom of order, struggling Cubs slugger swats decisive homer
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- When Kyle Schwarber greeted Joe Maddon in the Cubs' dugout after hitting his first career grand slam in the seventh inning Saturday, he gave the manager a high five he'll remember.

"My hand really hurt," Maddon said. "It was well struck."

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CHICAGO -- When Kyle Schwarber greeted Joe Maddon in the Cubs' dugout after hitting his first career grand slam in the seventh inning Saturday, he gave the manager a high five he'll remember.

"My hand really hurt," Maddon said. "It was well struck."

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So was Schwarber's homer, his ninth of the season and all the Cubs needed to post a 5-3 victory over the Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

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"I gave him a little extra," Schwarber said of his celebratory slap. "It was an exciting moment, a big moment to put us ahead in that spot, and to be able to hold those guys off and come out with a win was big."

It's even bigger for Schwarber, who began the day with a .163 batting average and dropped from leadoff man to the No. 9 slot in the Cubs' lineup. He was 2-for-34 with 16 strikeouts in his last 11 games prior to Saturday, and both of those hits were home runs, too.

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Maddon moved Schwarber to seventh on Friday but didn't like that setup, so he dropped him to ninth.

"I didn't like it [with him] seventh at all," Maddon said before Saturday's game. "If you could replay every pitch thrown to him yesterday, I hated it. I saw it from the side, and they were taking advantage of the eight-hole hitter and the pitcher behind him. I called him last night and said, 'I want to do this, and this is why.'"

The manager called Schwarber on Friday night with the news and said the slugger took it "beautifully."

"I'm like, 'Hey, at least I'm playing,'" Schwarber said, laughing. "No, actually, I didn't say anything. He told me his reason and I was like, 'All right, I'm going with it.' Whatever the skipper does I'm following it. He's got our back. It's all a process, and it worked out today."

In case you were wondering, Schwarber will be batting ninth again on Sunday.

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The Cubs trailed, 3-1, against Mike Leake with one out in the seventh when Jason Heyward and Willson Contreras both singled. One out later, pinch-hitter Jon Jay was hit by a pitch to load the bases and set up Schwarber, who launched the first pitch from Leake into the left-center-field bleachers.

"I did expect him to be pretty aggressive just because he has been scuffling," Leake said of Schwarber. " Obviously, it was off by a few inches of where I wanted it."

An opposite-field shot was just what Schwarber needed.

"He's got that kind of fortitude," Maddon said. "I like that the home run went to left-center, that's what I really like more than anything. If he hit it down the right-field line, nice, and of course we'll take it. But if he hits it to left central, that opens up a whole bunch of things."

It's an at-bat the Cubs are hoping Schwarber can build on.

"I'd say the last four or five days, I feel his at-bats have gotten good," Cubs starter Jon Lester said. "He's back to being Schwarbs. The game is tough. Hopefully, this is a step in the right direction for him and he goes home feeling good about himself."

Part of the adjustments have involved getting Schwarber to be more on time at the plate; his movements had become too big.

"Of course, his confidence is impacted, and that's the whole point," Maddon said. "I wanted to impress upon him it's not a loss of confidence from me to you. I understand you're going through a moment right now. What is the best way to deal with this? You can set aside your baseball ego -- hitting ninth. To me, it's so attractive. It's not hitting ninth and like the last kid playing right field in a sandlot game, it's not that at all. It's really attractive.

"I just want to get Kyle back in a situation where he can work on things, get better pitches and get pitched to, as opposed to being pitched around."

Schwarber got that opportunity Saturday, and he certainly didn't miss it.

"It was nice to come up in that spot and be able to help out," Schwarber said. "It's kind of a sigh of relief. I want to go up there and help my team, and for me to do that today was great."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.

Chicago Cubs, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber