Caratini's 2 HRs off deGrom lift Cubs to sweep

First baseman belts solo shot in 2nd, tiebreaking 3-run blast in 7th

August 30th, 2019

NEW YORK -- let go of the bat abruptly at the end of his swing. Then the Cubs catcher took a moment to watch the ball in flight, soaking in what was a groan-inducing home run for the Mets faithful at Citi Field.

At a time when every win carries October-fueled weight for the Cubs, Caratini's go-ahead three-run blast off New York ace Jacob deGrom in the seventh inning on Thursday eased the tension that had existed all evening. It was his second shot of the night, helping back a solid outing by in a 4-1 win that completed a three-game brooming of the Mets.

"Those at-bats were outstanding, man," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Against, I don't know, a top three pitcher in baseball? Five? We don't win without him hitting there today and he did it. How about it? That's pretty cool."

With the Cardinals idle on Thursday, the victory helped Chicago pull within 1 1/2 games of first place in the National League Central. Likewise, the Cubs held steady in the NL’s second Wild Card slot, moving 2 1/2 games behind the Nationals for the top spot.

On this night, Caratini was not behind the plate, but manning first base in place of , who has been fighting a balky back issue. Maddon wanted Caratini in the lineup because he felt he was less prone to striking out with deGrom on the hill. Caratini answered the call with a solo blast in the second and then his three-run blast in the seventh.

In both at-bats, deGrom did his best to stay outside against Caratini with four-seamers and changeups. Only twice did the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner come inside. Both were elevated sliders, and both were deposited over the right-field wall. The second blast -- which followed consecutive singles from and -- came after Caratini fouled off four straight pitches.

"Same pitch he hit out the first home run -- slider up and somehow he kept it fair," deGrom said. "I have to tip my cap to him. It wasn't exactly where I wanted it, but still, to keep that ball fair coming in to him after fouling off some good pitches down and away was pretty impressive."

Maddon offered a similar assessment.

"To get a ball in like that," Maddon said, "get the barrel to it, hit it that well and keep it fair, that's pretty much almost a perfect swing."

On the season, Caratini is now batting .274/.363/.480 with nine home runs and a 119 wRC+ in 69 games. For comparison, Cubs All-Star catcher has hit .275/.365/.525 with a 128 wRC+ in 87 games.

It seemed fitting that Caratini's two-homer performance -- his second multihomer game of the season -- came a few hours after Contreras left Citi Field to join Triple-A Iowa on a Minor League rehab assignment. While Contreras has been on the injured list this month with a right hamstring injury, Caratini and veteran have split the duties behind the plate.

Lucroy, who was signed five days after Contreras injured his leg on Aug. 3, has stepped in seamlessly as Chicago's second catcher. Lester normally works with Contreras, and the lefty headed into Thursday's outing with an 8.51 ERA in five August starts. Teamed up with Lucroy, Lester held the Mets to one J.D. Davis home run over six innings.

"I know how important I am to the rotation, just keeping that line moving, saving our bullpen," Lester said. "But, at the end of the day, everybody in this clubhouse and the guys that are going to get here in a couple days are beyond important going forward to try and reach our ultimate goal. We all have to play well. We all have to pull that same rope."

The stars have to be stars, and the role players -- guys like Caratini and Lucroy -- have to hold up their end of the bargain when called upon.

Over the past three days, that happened in New York with Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard and deGrom toeing the rubber against the Cubs. It was a much-needed response after Chicago was swept by the Nationals in three games over the weekend at Wrigley Field.

"That's the kind of thing that we're going to need to do," Caratini said via team translator Johnny Acevedo, "in order to retake first place in the division and keep going forward."