CHICAGO — An improbable game ended in the most improbable way when Chicago Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward hit a walk-off grand slam on a two-out, two-strike pitch off Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Adam Morgan, vaulting the Cubs to a 7-5 victory Wednesday night.
Or perhaps it wasn’t all that improbable considering the much-maligned Heyward has been making a lot more contact lately, prompting manager Joe Maddon to bat him second in the lineup. That’s the spot that came up with the game on the line in the ninth.
“What he’s doing mechanically at the plate, I like as well as at any moment that I’ve seen him here with a Cubs uniform on,” Maddon said after his team’s first walk-off win of the season.
It was Heyward’s first career walk-off home run and first grand slam since 2015 — the year before he signed a $184 million contract with the Cubs. At that time, he was a Gold Glove outfielder, a solid teammate and had an offensive game his new team thought would continue to improve. Instead, Heyward went backward.
But after returning from a concussion last month, he’s been a different hitter.
“It’s cliché, but trying to keep it simple,” Heyward said after his big hit. “One at-bat, one pitch at a time. Trying to make adjustments on the fly.”
Whatever he did on the 2-2 pitch by Morgan worked. Heyward caught up to the 97 mph fastball and deposited it into the right-field bleachers, sending Wrigley Field into a frenzy.
“There’s certain types of pitches he’s still good at,” Maddon said. “He got one there.”
It was just Heyward’s third home run of the season and first off a left-hander as Morgan actually has been better against righties than lefties this season. There was a time when it didn’t matter what the opposing pitcher’s splits were, Heyward was unlikely to drive the ball out of the park regardless. But for whatever reason, the last few weeks have been different. First and foremost, he’s making tons of contact.
“Just trying to be ready for a strike in the zone,” Heyward said.
Since returning from his concussion on May 18, he’s hitting .300 with just three strikeouts. If this is the new Heyward, then the Cubs have a welcome addition to their lineup. For many fans who had written Heyward off, his recent success has come out of nowhere, but Heyward has worked as hard as anyone in the game to live up to his mega-contract. Right now he’s doing just that.
“The last 10 days he’s been hitting the ball consistently hard,” Maddon said. “And even when he doesn’t, he’s been finding some holes.”
The ending topped off a crazy night when Maddon may have pulled his starter too early as the Phillies hit home runs off of two relievers who hadn’t given up a long ball in 53 and 71 innings, respectively. Taking Steve Cishek and Brandon Morrow deep isn’t easy for the opposition these days, but neither of the Phillies’ home runs — a three-run homer by Aaron Altherr in the sixth and a two-run shot by Dylan Cozens in the ninth that gave Philadelphia a 5-3 lead — matched the improbability of Heyward’s blast.
“Just an unlikely set of events,” Maddon said.
Heyward was jokingly asked if the concussion did anything to help him, considering his timing has been on the money since his return.
“Things do seem a little more clear,” Heyward said, laughing at the double meaning of his comment.