Willson Contreras cried when he found out he was starting Tuesday night's All-Star Game presented by Mastercard in Washington, D.C. Javier Baez had the opposite reaction when he got the good news -- he laughed.Different reactions aside, it was a night of firsts as the two Cubs made their Midsummer
Willson Contreras cried when he found out he was starting Tuesday night's All-Star Game presented by Mastercard in Washington, D.C. Javier Baez had the opposite reaction when he got the good news -- he laughed.
Different reactions aside, it was a night of firsts as the two Cubs made their Midsummer Classic debuts.
The emotions of Contreras' first All-Star Game didn't overwhelm him too much. Leading off the third inning, the Cubs' catcher hammered a solo home run 108.8 mph over the left-field fence at Nationals Park for the National League's first run in its 8-6 loss to the American League.
"Hitting that ball was something special for me and my family -- they're here -- and for the fans," Contreras said. "I'd do anything for the fans, and this was for the fans in Chicago."
The 97.8-mph, middle-cut fastball from Rays lefty Blake Snell was the hardest pitch Contreras, 26, has hit for a homer in his career, according to Statcast™.
Contreras became the 19th player in history to go yard in his first All-Star Game at-bat. George Altman is the only other Cubs player to do so, in 1961, and Eric Hosmer did it most recently, in 2016. No other Cubs catcher has homered in the Midsummer Classic.
"I'm really blessed [to be] in these types of situations," Contreras said. "It's going to be in history and in my mind and my heart."
Before Contreras provided the NL's first run, it was Baez who recorded the team's first hit. Of course, both players did their damage on the first pitch they saw.
Stepping into the batter's box to lead off the bottom of the first, Baez leaned forward, lifted his hand to his helmet and saluted American League starter Chris Sale.
"He throws hard," Baez, 25, said of Sale in an on-field interview on the FOX broadcast just moments before his at-bat. "Just got to hit the fastball. Let's see what I got on his fastball."
Simple enough, right? Not so much, though Baez couldn't have made it look much easier.
The Cubs' second baseman followed up his gesture like only "El Mago" can: He swung at Sale's first pitch, a 99.4-mph fastball off the plate inside, and roped it into center field.
Contreras batted ninth for the NL and was behind the plate for all of Max Scherzer's grunt-inducing heaters and nasty breaking balls. He caught the first five innings and went 1-for-2. Baez also was replaced after the fifth inning, going 1-for-3 in the contest.
The Cubs' third All-Star, veteran starter Jonathan Lester, was unavailable for the game after pitching against the Padres on Sunday.
"The big thing for me is watching these two knuckleheads over here have fun," Lester, 34, said on Monday. "You see the flair they play the game with and the ease that they play the game with, and that kind of oozes energy."
Contreras and Baez displayed that same youthful exuberance on Tuesday that has defined them early in their careers. Recognizing the significance of starting an All-Star Game, though, gave them additional perspectives that they won't soon forget.
"I wanted to enjoy my moment," Contreras said. "You don't hit homers every day, especially in this kind of All-Star Game. When I realized I was by third base, I was like 'Slow down,' I looked at the dugout. That's why I started slowing down. I started to enjoy it."
As he jogged toward the plate, Contreras clapped and looked to the sky, a gesture that he said was a nod to his late grandfather, who passed away in 2015.
"I feel like every time I go out there and step out of the box, he's at my back," Contreras said. "It feels amazing when you hit a homer or do something special, you look at the sky and you know he's there."
Matthew Martell is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago.