Willson Contreras repeatedly pressed a finger to his lips after he rounded second base on Tuesday night. The Cubs' catcher admitted that all the frustration that had been building with each hit-by-pitch over this season and last was flowing out, and he was enjoying every second.
Moments earlier, Contreras had launched a Brent Suter offering for a two-run homer in the eighth, powering Chicago to a 3-2 victory over the Brewers. As the baseball soared out to left, Contreras turned to his teammates and gave his bat an emphatic celebratory toss toward the third-base dugout.
The bat flip. The shush. Contreras reveled in it all.
"It feels good to shut them up," Contreras said of his motion to the Milwaukee crowd. "We sent a message. I think they picked the wrong guy to throw at. That was a message sent."
Contreras, who has made his frustration over being hit by the pitch so often no secret, also reiterated his belief that the Brewers are not plunking him on purpose. The catcher has been hit seven times by Milwaukee pitchers over the past two seasons, including three this year and four as part of his MLB-leading 14 hit-by-pitches in 2020.
In the fourth inning on Tuesday night, Contreras wore a Brandon Woodruff pitch off his left hand, but shook it off and took his base without complaint. The same could not be said a week ago, when Contreras ignited a benches-clearing incident in Chicago after being hit on the arm by Brewers reliever Brad Boxberger. The catcher said he was fined by MLB after that episode for breaking COVID-19 protocols.
Contreras explained that -- in that moment -- he was also trying to send a message to Milwaukee. One night earlier on April 5, the Cubs' catcher took a Devin Williams fastball off his helmet.
“That hit by pitch could've been the end of my career,” said Contreras, who added that he has discussed the situation with Brewers catcher Omar Narváez.
“We are really good friends. We're really close,” Contreras said. “And I told him, ‘I know you guys are not trying to hit me, but bro, that's something that frustrates any player. And I'm trying to take care of myself.’”
And Contreras is trying to help the Cubs right the ship after a tough start to the season.
Through the season’s first 10 games, Chicago managed only 49 hits, marking the fewest in any 10-game stretch in any Cubs season dating back to 1901, per team historian Ed Hartig. For the first seven innings on Tuesday, the North Siders were laboring again, with the lone breakthrough against Woodruff being a sacrifice fly by Kris Bryant.
It was Contreras who scored on that Bryant fly to deep right, following a first-to-third sprint on a base hit by Anthony Rizzo. That cut Chicago’s deficit to one run at the time.
“That's the Cubs team that I think we're used to seeing,” manager David Ross said.
Then with one out in the eighth, Ian Happ battled with Suter -- a consistent thorn in Chicago’s side for the past few years -- and finally slashed a 1-2 fastball through the infield and into right field for a single. That was the kind of hit the Cubs have been craving in recent games, when the team has been home run reliant and strikeout prone.
“You know who started it all?” Ross said. “Happer just taking a single to right. It doesn't feel like we've had a lot of just singles. Just for him to do a good job of hitting, staying on Suter with two strikes and serving that ball to right, ground ball through the hole, beating the shift, I thought that was really one of the big turning points.”
It was also a big opportunity for Contreras to let his bat do the bruising this time.
“I wasn't trying to do too much," Contreras said. "When you're not trying to do too much, that's when the big hit comes."
Suter got Contreras to foul off a 2-0 fastball on the edge, and then the lefty misfired over the heart of the plate with a four-seamer. The Cubs' catcher did not waste the chance to punish the pitch, sending it rocketing out of the playing field with a 110.4 mph exit velocity.
After his emotional trip around the bases, Contreras spiked his helmet in the dugout and let out a yell.
“That's just got to feel so good for him,” Ross said. “He almost ripped my hand off when he high-fived me in the dugout.”
Consider Contreras’ message delivered -- not that he expects this all to be over.
“There's a lot more games coming up,” he said. “Who knows what's going to happen?