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As power waits on deck, the Cubs' 'Untaggable Man' wins with speed

MILWAUKEE – The starter pitched seven strong innings. Four guys hit home runs. And the Cubs never trailed Friday night in their victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

And all manager Joe Maddon wanted to talk about afterward was the dude who was called out after running hard to first in the ninth inning.

“Play of the game,” Maddon called it, taking his “Respect 90” commandment to a new level after the Cubs hung on to survive the 7-6 game with a win.

Of course, Kris Bryant (and, no, he wasn’t one of the guys with a homer) eventually was ruled safe on the otherwise routine play after Maddon challenged the two-out call – extending the inning and allowing Addison Russell to score from third with what turned out to be a decisive run.

“How many guys do that? How many guys in baseball today do that?” Maddon raved of the play that came with runners at the corners and the Cubs leading 6-3 at the time.

“Routine ground ball to short, we’re up, looks like we’re in pretty good shape, he beats out a ground ball, we challenge, the run scores, and that’s the game right there.

“That’s the kind of thing that wins games when guys play baseball. Even though he might be struggling a bit at the plate – he’s going to stop struggling; I promise you he’s going to be really, really good by the end of this year – but while he’s struggling he runs hard to first base, Cubs win. Boom. Very simple.

“And that’s my takeaway from the night. … It was phenomenal.”

Home runs by Dexter Fowler, Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler and Starlin Castro weren’t bad, either, especially on a night when every run became huge because of another bullpen breakdown.

And Jason Hammel (3-1) pitching another seven strong innings was a big part of the win, too. He and Jon Lester are the only Cub pitchers to go even six innings in a start in nearly two full rotation cycles.

But Bryant? The slugger who helps win games with his wheels?

“I guess that’s kind of ironic,” said the rookie, whose still looking for his first home run 72 at-bats into his big league career (after leading professional baseball with 43 last year). “I think some people underestimate me. Maybe seeing a big guy in the box, usually hitting in the middle of the order, they think I’m not as quick as I am.”

Believe it or not, Bryant’s abilities on the bases haven’t gone unnoticed by other teams.

By Bryant’s fourth big-league game, one major league evaluator already had dubbed him the “Untaggable Man” – after Bryant circled the bases on a play that started as a two-run double and turned into a “Little League home run,” when he took third on a throw home, then eventually scored on an error against the Pirates.

The Pirates also failed to throw him out after he strayed off second too far between pitches in that game, and the next day he reached base four more times, including once on an error that also went for an RBI.

Untaggable? Unstoppable?

Bryant will settle for unassailable when it comes to his effort.

“I just want that reputation of playing hard and respecting the game and respecting 90, like Joe says,” Bryant said.

Regardless of the home run pace.

“I could go the rest of the year without hitting a home run,” Bryant said, “and as long as I’m doing that, running hard, driving in runs and helping the team win, that’s all I can control. And I’ll continue to do that.”