Cubs’ Willson Contreras clutch in win vs. Cardinals, ‘relaxed’ as trade deadline looms

ST. LOUIS – Cubs catcher Willson Contreras had a simple goal when he stepped up to the plate in extra innings with the go-ahead run in scoring position.

“I was trying to hit a ground ball to second base,” he said.

He did exactly that, and his RBI single through the right side of the infield was the difference in the Cubs’ 6-5 win against the Cardinals on Sunday at Busch Stadium.

“Willson’s been in a really good place, I think just mentally been the same guy every single day,” Cubs manager David Ross said before the game. “I almost think he’s more relaxed this year than I’ve seen him.”

Sunday was a perfect example, as Contreras drove in the tying and winning runs in separate at-bats Sunday.

Contreras has spoken plenty this year about compartmentalizing on the field as outside distractions have mounted this year in the form of contract questions and the trade deadline, which is about five weeks away.

“That has nothing to do with the person that I want to be in the clubhouse,” he reiterated Sunday. “I know those types of things are right there. But I’m not letting them bother me. I’m trying to be the same person every single day for my teammates and do the best job I can do to help this team to win.”

He’s already honed that skill on the field, compartmentalizing each at-bat.

Look at Sunday. Contreras entered the day on a rare 2-for-21 slump on the road trip thus far.

“It’s just called baseball,” Contreras said. “I’m human.”

On Sunday, he struck out in his first two at-bats. First, he was punched out on a fastball off the inside of the plate. Then, he chased two outside pitches to go down in three.

“I didn’t let that bother me for my third at-bat,” Contreras said. “It was a big situation for us to tie the game.”

The Cubs had rallied back from a 5-0 deficit to cut the Cardinals’ lead to two runs with one out in the fourth inning. Contreras worked a 3-2 count as Cardinals reliever Johan Oviedo nibbled around the edges of the strike zone.

Then, a fastball leaked over the middle of the plate, and Contreras hit it on the ground up the middle to knot the score at five apiece.

The Cubs bullpen held the Cardinals scoreless the rest of the way, to give Contreras a chance to put his team ahead in extra innings.

He led off the 10th, but thanks to the extra innings rule, the Cubs had an automatic runner, Nelson Velázquez, standing on second base for him.

Contreras fouled off a changeup and a curveball.

Then, down 0-2, he got a high fastball, out of the zone but on the outer half of the plate so he could drive it the other way.

“I’m lucky that I made contact with a pitch that high,” he said with a chuckle.

Contreras got on top of the pitch to send it into the gap on the right side of the infield, giving Velázquez just enough time to dive across home plate safely.

The Cubs claimed the series victory in their seventh comeback win of the season.

“It feels good,” Contreras said, “especially against a great team like the Cardinals.”

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