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First career walk-off? Schwarber makes it a HR

Cubs OF finds basket in 10th to put cap on 'a lot of really good stuff'
@MLBastian
July 17, 2019

CHICAGO -- Kyle Schwarber lifted an arm skyward and Javier Báez, waiting on deck, tossed his helmet into the air in celebration. The baseball that Schwarber sent towering over left field dropped into the basket in front of the bleachers, sending the Wrigley Field crowd into a frenzy. As Schwarber

CHICAGO -- Kyle Schwarber lifted an arm skyward and Javier Báez, waiting on deck, tossed his helmet into the air in celebration. The baseball that Schwarber sent towering over left field dropped into the basket in front of the bleachers, sending the Wrigley Field crowd into a frenzy.

As Schwarber made his trek around the basepaths, following a one-out home run off Reds closer Raisel Iglesias in the 10th inning for a 4-3 victory, the Cubs' outfielder knew what awaited him. A few steps from the plate, Jason Heyward pelted Schwarber with a towel. Baez put a hand on Schwarber's back and pushed him into the swarm of teammates. Anthony Rizzo jabbed him in the sides. Kris Bryant, Albert Almora Jr. and Baez yanked on his jersey.

Box score

It was a scene of elation and chaos.

"That's something you always want to cross off the bucket list," Schwarber said.

It marked the fourth walk-off home run of the season for the National League Central-leading Cubs, who upped their home record to 33-17. It was, however, the first career walk-off of any kind for Schwarber. That the blast came against Cincinnati -- the team Schwarber grew up watching as a kid in Middletown, Ohio -- made it a little sweeter for the outfielder.

And it was also the kind of victory the Cubs needed.

While Schwarber's final swing is what will last in the memories of Chicago's fans, there were a few factors that paved the path to that moment. There were a series of pristine defensive plays -- Almora's sliding, over-the-shoulder catch to rob Joey Votto in the first is atop the list. There was a quality start from rookie Alec Mills, who shook off a three-run first inning. There were key home runs by rookie Robel Garcia and Bryant.

"We did a lot of really good stuff tonight," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

And it all led to the game's deciding confrontation between Schwarber and Iglesias.

With the game caught in a 3-3 deadlock in the ninth, Reds manager David Bell opted to hand the ball to his closer with one out and a runner in scoring position. Working in his third consecutive game, Iglesias struck out Almora and Martín Maldonado -- who was making his Cubs debut -- to send the game to extra innings.

"Raisel, you can't ask for much more out of a guy," Bell said.

After that escape act, the 10th inning also belonged to Iglesias, who topped out at 96.8 mph with his fastball in the outing. He induced a groundout off the bat of pinch-hitter Victor Caratini to open the final frame.

"He still had really good stuff into that second inning," Maddon said. "It was almost like one of those things -- somebody's got to walk into one. It was going to be hard to string something together, I thought."

Iglesias started Schwarber off with a changeup in the dirt, and the outfielder watched it for a ball. The closer came back with another changeup -- this one over the heart of the plate -- and Schwarber took it for a strike. Iglesias stayed in the same area of the strike zone with his third offering, but he upped the velocity by nearly 7 mph, firing a 96-mph fastball.

Schwarber's plan of attack?

"I was actually trying to hit a single up the middle," he said with a smirk. "I didn't want to get too big. I stayed up the middle, but just got under it."

That has been Schwarber's approach consistently this season, in which he has gone to the opposite field with great success. Entering Tuesday, Schwarber was going the other way 28.4 percent of the time, compared to 23 percent in '18, per Fangraphs. The outfielder also had seven homers and an .803 slugging percentage to the opposite field in '19 (versus two homers and a .477 SLG in '18), according to Statcast.

Make that eight opposite-field homers after his latest shot (No. 21 overall this season).

"It's just being able to try to stay through some balls," Schwarber said, "and hit it middle, other way and pull it when it's in there. It's been going pretty good so far."

Schwarber sent the pitch arcing high to left after the ball shot off his bat at a 38-degree launch angle, per Statcast. With the 99.6 mph exit velocity factored in, that type of ball in play results in a home run 20.1 percent of the time. This particular shot to left also had an expected batting average of .210.

All of those numbers boil down to this: It was a deep fly that needed some assistance from the baseball gods, or maybe a unique ballpark element. Fortunately for the Cubs in this case, the help came via the angled basket that juts out from the top of Wrigley Field's brick wall.

"Whoever thought about that basket, whenever that occurred, tell them thank you," Maddon said with a laugh. "When it works for you, it's awesome."

When reporters approached Schwarber after the win, he tossed a towel over the group in the direction of a laundry cart. It landed on the floor.

"Ah, missed," Schwarber said.

"At least you made the basket," a reporter quipped.

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.