‘My moment’: Cubs’ Christopher Morel, Brandon Hughes make fairytale debuts

Morel hit a home run and Hughes struck out five Pirates in the Cubs’ 7-0 win Tuesday.

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Cubs rookie Christopher Morel runs the bases after hitting a home run in his first MLB at-bat against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field.

Cubs rookie Christopher Morel runs the bases after hitting a home run in his first MLB at-bat against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field.

Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Cubs rookie Christopher Morel told Willson Contreras and Alfonso Rivas that he was going to hit a home run an inning before he walked up to the plate for his first major-league at-bat. 

He didn’t even know for certain that he was going to pinch-hit in the eighth inning against the Pirates. 

“But I’ve got to be ready,” he said with a smile. “That’s what I told [manager David] Ross, ‘If you’re going to need me, I’m going to be ready for this moment.’ ”

Just as he predicted, Morel launched a home run over the left-field bleachers.  

In a 7-0 victory Tuesday, two Cubs rookies had major-league debuts fit for Hollywood scripts. Morel became the first Cub to homer in his first MLB at-bat since Contreras in 2016. And left-hander Brandon Hughes became the first pitcher in the modern era to record five-plus outs in his major-league debut with all of them being strikeouts, according to Stats Perform. 

“I’ve seen a lot of cool stuff in baseball,” Ross said. “That was a really cool day.”

Contreras believed that Morel would make an impact with his first at-bat.

“But I was thinking of a base hit,” Contreras said. “Just a base hit, just a blooper, just something positive. And once I saw the ball going out, I was like, ‘That was a no-doubter.’ That kid had some pop in his bat. … Hopefully, this is the start of a huge career for him.”

Morel, pinch-hitting for third baseman Patrick Wisdom, fell behind 0-2. 

“So I concentrated,” he said, “and I said, ‘I can do it. I could do it before, so I can do it right now.’ ”

Morel worked a full count and then blasted a high fastball to left, clearing the top row of the bleachers. 

Earlier in the game, Hughes was called in for his debut in a unique situation. 

Veteran lefty Daniel Norris had replaced starter Keegan Thompson to open the sixth inning. But on his fourth pitch, Norris took a nimble step after his follow through. The Cubs later announced that he’d left the game with right Achilles soreness. 

Hughes was watching from the bullpen and started working his arms with resistance bands. 

“But not thinking I was gonna get called,” he said. “Then, the phone rang, and they say, ‘Hughes.’ And it just, whoosh, hit me.”

He warmed up on the mound — rather than in the bullpen — for the first time ever. Then he picked up the at-bat against Pirates leadoff hitter Josh VanMeter where Norris left it: two balls, no strikes. 

He threw two more balls, and the walk was credited to Norris. Then Hughes struck out five of the next six batters he faced. 

“That was really special to watch,” Thompson said, “and a really cool moment for him.” 

Two moments especially stuck with Hughes. 

“Walking off the mound and saying, ‘Let’s go, Willy,’ and pounding his chest gear, and he’s just like, ‘Nice job, kid,’ ” Hughes said. “I think that’s what I’ll remember. And then shaking Rossy’s hand after he said I was done.”

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