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With one massive swing of the bat, Christopher Morel turned one of the Cubs’ worst losses of the season into one of the team’s most electric moments in years.
The Cubs trailed the White Sox by two heading into the bottom of the ninth at Wrigley Field. Their performance for a majority of Wednesday’s game was lackluster, and they were in real danger of being swept in the North Side portion of the 2023 Crosstown Classic.
It’s tough to say any one game or one series is a season-ender (besides the ones that mathematically eliminate a team from the playoffs, of course). A two-game sweep at the hands of their crosstown rivals in mid-August probably doesn’t fit that description, either.
Nevertheless, this was turning into the most disappointing series loss of the season. The Cubs need to take care of business during this softer 12-game stretch in their schedule. Yet, they were on the cusp of getting embarrassed at their home ballpark.
And then Cody Bellinger doubled to lead off the bottom of the ninth.
And then Dansby Swanson worked a five-pitch walk to bring the go-ahead run to the plate.
Suddenly, the Cubs had something brewing with their young, energetic, powerful slugger in Morel in position to send the fans home happy.
“Willson [Contreras] once told me, in those moments, just try to stay in the eye of the hurricane,” Morel said through team interpreter Fredy Quevedo, referring to the former Cubs catcher whose reminder to breathe aided in Morel’s first walk-off RBI last season. “Just think about what I’m doing in that moment. Don’t think about anything else. Focus on the moment and focus on myself and what I’m doing in that moment.”
Morel swung through the first two pitches from White Sox closer Gregory Santos, who had struck out Morel to lead off the ninth in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss.
“That wasn’t going to happen again,” Morel said. “I knew that that was my moment and that was my time.”
After taking the next pitch — a slider low and away — for ball No. 1, Santos left a 99.5-mph sinker in the heart of the plate, and Morel was determined to not let this moment pass him by.
With one crack of the bat, Morel sent the crowd of 40,869 into a frenzy. The ball sailed into the basket hanging over the wall in right-center field, driving in the three runs the Cubs needed to complete the comeback in the 4-3 victory.
Morel jubilantly rounded first base, looking like a Little Leaguer who couldn’t believe what he’d just done as ‘Go Cubs Go’ blasted throughout the ballpark. He had already thrown his helmet in the air by the time he reached second, his jersey was coming off — not by his teammates, but by his own accord — as he rounded third, and when he finally made it home, the celebration was on.
“I got excited, too,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “I was high-fiving [bench coach] Andy [Green]. He got around the bases pretty fast. I think the manager brain was like, ‘Make sure you touch all the bases.’ Dumb stuff like that.
“What a great swing, great environment. I mean, Christopher Morel, he’s just so electric. That ball was smoked.”
Of course, Morel’s big moment doesn’t happen without the moments that came before it.
Yes, the Cubs overall looked beat for most of the game, but there were absolutely times in this game where, if they didn’t go the Cubs’ way, Morel doesn’t get the chance to make magic happen. Among them:
- Javier Assad, making just his third start since joining the rotation 11 days ago, recorded his third-career quality start (six innings, two earned runs) to keep the Cubs in it.
“It was one where I kept fighting,” Assad said through Quevedo. “Didn’t have the best command today, but just tried to get the win and just kept on fighting.”
- Coming into a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation in the top of the eighth, Michael Fulmer proceeded to strike out the heart of the White Sox’ order to keep it at a three-run ballgame.
“I pride myself on being ready anytime that Rossy decides,” Fulmer said. “I had a feeling that with the righties coming up — there was two out of three righties — that I’d have a chance [to get in the game] if things didn’t go well [to start the inning].”
- Nick Madrigal, pinch-hitting in the bottom of the eighth against the team who traded him two years ago, took former teammate Aaron Bummer deep into the left-field basket to get the Cubs on the board.
“I was just trying to get on base and get something going,” Madrigal said. “I didn’t think we were ever out of it for a second with this lineup. Just to be able to get a run across for the team and put us in striking distance, I mean, that was the most important thing.”
All of that — not to mention Mark Leiter Jr.’s scoreless seventh, Drew Smyly’s clean ninth in just his second true relief outing of the year and Ian Happ’s outfield assist to finish that frame — needed to happen for Morel to find himself in the spot he did Wednesday night.
In turn, Morel delivered what he said was his favorite moment in baseball — even over his homer in his first major league at-bat — and a moment people will talk about for a long time.
“I’m definitely very, very happy, very excited,” Morel said. “I definitely want to thank God. I want to thank my teammates; they’ve never given up, kept on fighting. And I just want to go ahead and thank the fans as well and everything out there with the environment and just everyone overall. It was a great moment.”
The good from the win doesn’t completely erase the bad.
The Cubs were still shut out for seven innings by Mike Clevinger. Before Morel’s homer, they were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. At the beginning of a stretch where they can flip the National League Central standings in their favor, they need to play much better overall.
Wins like this are fantastic, no doubt, but beating up on the bad teams ahead is what the Cubs need to do. It would definitely be easier on the fans who want to see a postseason berth if the Cubs don’t take them on rollercoaster rides like they did Wednesday.
But, maybe this is the kind of win that re-energizes and re-focuses the group. With a chance to make the playoffs still in sight — the Cubs (62-58) improved to 2 1/2 games back of the Brewers with the win, and they’re currently in a three-way tie for the last NL Wild Card spot — maybe this can help give them that extra gear to finish the regular season strong.
“You can feel there’s something kind of brewing in this clubhouse,” Madrigal said. “Games like this, to pull those out when it wasn’t looking good for most of the game, that’s when you know you’ve got a special team that wins these kinds of games.”
“We’ve been playing our ball the past few weeks, past month or so,” Fulmer said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do to win this division. That’s our only goal right now. I think everything is clicking on all cylinders, and we’re just happy to be playing well.”
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