Ian Happ has his breakout moment as Cubs come back to sweep Cardinals

SHARE Ian Happ has his breakout moment as Cubs come back to sweep Cardinals

Ian Happ after launching his second home run during Sunday’s 7-6 Cubs victory over the Cardinals. (AP/Nam Y. Huh)

Move over, Sandberg Game.

Happ Game, anyone?

OK, let’s all take a breath. There’s no need to compare what 22-year-old Ian Happ did in the Cubs’ 7-6 victory Sunday against the Cardinals — blast long balls into the very good night, essentially — to the breakout game of a 24-year-old Ryne Sandberg in 1984.

It’s kind of fun to do it, though.

Like Sandberg, Happ introduced himself to a national-TV audience with two huge home runs against the Cardinals. In June. At Wrigley Field. Can you feel the similarities mounting?

Also like Sandberg, Happ is a second baseman on the rise — except that manager Joe Maddon once again started him in center field. That growing defensive versatility is a necessary skill for Happ, the Cubs’ first-round draft pick in 2015, who’s trying to entrench himself on their big-league roster.

‘‘Whatever it takes for me to help this team is the way I figure it,’’ Happ said. ‘‘You have to be as complete a player as you can if you want to be here.’’

Of course, if Happ continues to show this kind of potential offensively, who’s going to dare ask him to leave under any circumstances?

In the third inning, Happ pulled a two-out pitch 443 feet just inside the foul pole in right to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead. Then with the Cubs trailing 4-3 in the fourth, he hit a screaming three-run liner 400 feet into the stands in right-center.

‘‘The second one had that extra gear on it,’’ Maddon said.

With that came Happ’s first Wrigley curtain call. He called the moment ‘‘awesome’’ and the fans “unbelievable.”

Not surprisingly, Happ was the first player out of the Cubs’ dugout to take the field for the fifth. Who could blame him? The adoring masses in the center-field bleachers were ready to fall in love.

‘‘I love Chicago,’’ he said. ‘‘I love the city. This field, playing in this atmosphere every day with these fans, it’s unbelievable. I can’t say enough about that.’’

Happ is no Jason Heyward in the outfield, but he traded nice plays with the right fielder early.

Former Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler led off the game with a drive over Happ’s head in center, but he scrambled back and set his feet in time to haul it in. Yadier Molina hit a nearly identical ball in the next inning. Happ staggered a bit but got there again.

Heyward, meanwhile, was all-out diving for one beautiful gem and pirouetting in the well in deep right for another. But he’s a master craftsman; Happ is more of an outfield apprentice.

‘‘My main goal is just to catch every one of them,’’ Happ said. ‘‘It might be ugly, but as long as I can do that.’’

This was a big victory for the Cubs, who secured their first home sweep of the rival Cardinals in a three-game series since 2006. On a night when starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks was off his game, a bunch of guys picked him up. With closer Wade Davis unavailable, relievers Pedro Stop, Carl Edwards Jr. and Koji Uehara were stellar.

Outfielder Albert Almora Jr., who has lost much of his playing time to Happ, got a big two-out pinch hit in the fourth that resulted in two runs (thanks to an error by right fielder Stephen Piscotty) to cut the Cubs’ deficit to 4-3. Almora is batting .429 as a pinch hitter.

Fellow outfielder Jon Jay is doing even better. He’s at .450 after coming off the bench to single home the tiebreaking run in the seventh.

‘‘It takes a whole team,’’ Jay said.

Team game. Happ Game. Whatever works.

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com


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