ST. LOUIS — Kris Bryant played Friday night in St. Louis.
And he made sure everyone noticed.
Two days after Cubs manager Joe Maddon left Bryant on the bench in a 1-0 loss to assure a day off for his fatigued third baseman, Bryant answered the social-media head-scratching and backlash by breaking out of a weeklong slump in the Cubs’ 13-5 victory over the Cardinals.
“Sometimes it’s just a mental break that gets you going or gets you back on track,” said Bryant, who snapped an 0-for-17 hitting drought and 32-day homerless drought with a two-run homer in the second inning to help ignite the rout in the opener of the three-game series.
With his dad and lifelong hitting coach Mike Bryant watching from the stands, Kris drove a 1-0 pitch from Michael Wacha 448 feet and over the wall in left-center to snap a streak of 119 plate appearances without a homer – the longest of his career.
“Rest in this game improves everything,” Maddon said.
Bryant, who brought his parents to St. Louis for the series, added a run-scoring single and sacrifice fly in the big performance – not that his dad brought any baseball advice with him.
“We just watched a lot of golf,” Bryant said of their shared second passion and how they spent the early part of Friday. “Sometimes it’s just nice to have your parents there for the big days that count for them. This happened to be Father’s Day weekend. It’s nice to have him and my mom around.”
A big day for Bryant was also a big day for almost everybody else who batted for the Cubs – who scored as many runs Friday as they had in their previous six games combined (and they scored seven in one of those).
Coming out of their last scheduled day off until next month, slumping outfielders Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber also homered – Schwarber’s three-run blast above the grass beyond the center-field fence one of the longest ever hit at the 13th-year ballpark.
Happ’s homer, just three batters before Bryant’s, produced the Cubs’ first run since Monday.
Everybody who started reached base. Albert Almora, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell each had three hits. And perhaps the most impressive feat of the night: Javy Baez walked – unintentionally – twice. It’s the first time that’s happened since he was a rookie in 2014.
And starter Jon Lester (8-2) continued to lock down another All-Star bid with another six strong innings on a night Maddon said he might have had his best stuff of the season.
But this night belonged to the Cubs’ former MVP, a critical part of their World Series plans, as he came off the rest stop and the strange-looking ending Wednesday in Milwaukee (a day he said he would have liked to come off the bench and hit).
“Kris is fine,” Lester said. “He’s got such high expectations of not only himself but other people outside of the baseball world. I think he feels that – he feels pressure from his teammates; he feels pressure on himself. He wants to perform and do well every night.
“When he doesn’t it seems like that rock on his back gets a little bigger every time. … But that’s why we all have baseball cards. You look at the end of the year, and it’ll probably be 30 [homers] and 100 [RBIs], same as [Rizzo].”
Said general manager Jed Hoyer: “Kris Bryant is the least of our worries.”