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

ST. LOUIS — Cubs catcher Willson Contreras had a simple goal when he stepped to the plate in the 10th inning Sunday against the Cardinals with the go-ahead run in scoring position.

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

He did more than that. His RBI single through the right side of the infield was the difference in the Cubs’ 6-5 victory at Busch Stadium.

”Willson’s been in a really good place, I think,” manager David Ross said before the game. ”[He has] just mentally been the same guy every single day. 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.

Contreras has spoken plenty this season about compartmentalizing on the field as outside distractions, such as questions about his contract and the trade deadline, have mounted. The deadline 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.”

Contreras already has honed that skill on the field, compartmentalizing each at-bat. He entered the day in a 2-for-21 slump on the road trip.

“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 5-3 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 5-5.

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 automatic runner Nelson Velazquez standing on second base for him.

Contreras fouled off a changeup and a curve, then 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 through the gap on the right side, giving Velazquez just enough time to dive across home plate safely.

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

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

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