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 Dvid] 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 win against the Pirates on 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 and in baseball,” Cubs manager David 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 in the eighth, 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.
Outside the dugout, Contreras leapt up and down in his catcher’s gear.
“I know what kind of guy he is,” Contreras said. “He’s always smiling, and he’s always looking forward to winning a game. I have known this guy for a really long time, and it makes me proud.”
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 the follow through. The Cubs would later announce that he’d left the game with right achilles soreness.
Hughes was watching from the dugout and starting working his arms with resistance bands.
“But not thinking I was gonna get called,” he said. “Then, the phone rnag, 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, keeping in mind his coaches and teammates’ advice to take it slow. 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.”
Morel got two moments with the fans, first a curtain call right after the home run, when Contreras pushed Morel back out of the dugout. And then a hat tip when he took the field in the ninth inning.
“I tried to do this because when I hit that home run, and I heard the fans so loud, I said, ‘This is my moment,'” he said, “So, I need to do it.”