Kris Bryant wasn’t having a very good time in the early going of Saturday’s game in Pittsburgh. He struck out looking in his first at-bat and his team was struggling yet again to scratch out anything at the plate against a decidedly meh pitcher. Then there were the two errors at third base that kept opening a door Jon Lester had to nail shut repeatedly over six innings.
Ah, but a single swing can change things in an instant when the game is close. The Cubs learned that all too well in each of the two previous evenings, and Bryant himself had blasted a big homer in Cincinnati last Sunday salvage a split with the Reds. Of course, even that dinger did little to quiet those Cubs fans who are still openly critical of the decorated slugger’s clutch credentials.
As aware as Bryant has admitted to being of that social media flak, it was a Pirates fan — at least we’re assuming as much — whose heckling provided a little extra motivation Saturday afternoon.
“I don’t really know what he said, but he was making fun of me because I made two errors,” Bryant said of his 7th-inning shot, per Gordon Wittenmyer. “And then I hit a home run.”
With all due respect to Bryant’s excellent hearing, it’s entirely possible the guy was actually talking about his hair-ors. Far it be it for someone who rocked a bowl cut as a teenager to question a dude’s coiffure, but what was once a stylish faux-hawk has gone from mildly objectionable rattail to full-blown Kentucky mudflap over the last couple weeks. If Bryant doesn’t get his ears lowered soon, he’s going to be legally mandated to drive a Camaro with T-tops.
Mullets aside, it was the Pirates who were in a hairy situation after Bryant gave the Cubs all the offense they would need when he hammered a first-pitch fastball from Steven Brault out to left-center. And in a fitting turn of events, a throwing error from catcher Elias Diaz allowed Ian Happ to score an insurance run the following inning.
After splitting in Pittsburgh, the two teams will now play a neutral-site contest as they head to Williamsport for the Little League Classic. A win would give the Cubs their first road series victory over a divisional opponent this season and would send them back to Wrigley on a high note after wearing a pair of brutal losses heading into the weekend.
Having the change of pace with the Little League game should be more of a boon to the Cubs, whose issues on the road have been widely documented. Even a win, especially one in which they scored just two runs, isn’t enough to wash off the stank of the previous four games. A chance to visit Williamsport during the Little League World Series, though, that might really help to shake something loose.
‘‘I think we’ll welcome it, just because maybe it’s a good thing to break up your routine,’’ Bryant said. ‘‘Obviously, it hasn’t been working for us on the road and what we’re doing now.”
In addition to some of the less quantifiable benefits of the upcoming novelty contest, the Cubs will also be getting their closer back. Whether Craig Kimbrel factors in the game or not, just having him available out of the bullpen lends confidence to the players and makes Joe Maddon’s job that much easier.
Or, you know, KB and Co. can just go off and eliminate any need for strategy. Yeah, that sounds like a plan.