Thompson thinks fast, helps Cubs end 10-game skid, halt Atlanta's 14-game win streak
As lopsided as this matchup seemed on paper, Cubs closer David Robertson smelled an upset brewing a day earlier.
"They're due to lose one. We're due to win one, so hopefully we can make it work," he said.
Roughly 24 hours later, Robertson put the finishing touches on a 1-0 victory over Atlanta on Friday at Wrigley Field, ending the Cubs 10-game losing streak. The Braves arrived in town on a 14-game win streak.
"I think everybody can take a deep sigh of relief now and just have fun," Cubs starting pitcher Keegan Thompson said.
Robertson loaded the bases in the ninth inning on two walks and a hit batter, but coaxed a grounder to first from Orlando Arcia to end the game and set off a celebration. The familiar "Go Cubs Go" song could be heard coming from the home clubhouse after the contest.
Thompson was the Cubs MVP in this one. Coming off a pair of rough road starts against the Orioles and Yankees, he decided to get back to basics and focus on firing the fastball.
According to baseballsavant.com, Thompson threw his four-seam fastball 48 times in 92 pitches, averaging 93.5 miles per hour. Atlanta hitters put just 4 of those in play. Thompson finished with career-highs in strikeouts (9) and pitches thrown.
"There were a couple of fastballs that were hit in one of my outings and I think it just took me away from it," Thompson said. "I was throwing more off-speed stuff and two-seams instead of four-seams. Today, just re-establishing the four-seam and getting ahead of guys and staying in the zone and attacking guys."
In his previous four starts, the most Thompson used his four-seam was 40% of the time, in a victory over the White Sox on May 28. Against the Yankees last Sunday, when he didn't make it out of the first inning, he used the four-seam just 9 times in 37 pitches.
"My core belief is you pitch with your fastball, especially the starter," manager David Ross said. "And he did that today. Nobody took good swings.
"It looked like him and (catcher) Yan (Gomes) were on a really nice page of reading the hitters. They were tardy on a lot of swings. It was an impressive start. That's for me, the core of pitching is fastball and fastball command. He was throwing fastballs in fastball counts to fastball hitters."
The game was scoreless heading into the eighth inning because Cubs hitters couldn't do much of anything against veteran Atlanta starter Charlie Morton, 38, who hit 98 mph a few times with his fastball.
After Cubs rookie Christopher Morel struck out three times, he called Morton one of the best pitchers he's ever faced.
"Charlie Morton was nasty today," Ross said. "But so was our guy."
The Cubs finally manufactured the winning run in the eighth. Pinch-hitter Jonathan Villar started with a walk against reliever A.J. Minter and was sacrificed to second.
Morel was up next and after he fell behind 0-2, Villar decided it was time for a bold move and stole third base without a throw.
While Willson Contreras again sent instructions from the on-deck circle, Morel was able to send a fly ball deep enough into center field to score Villar.
"Being in that spot is not easy," Contreras said. "I was trying to give him a vote of confidence by saying a lot of things out there. He was having a rough day. We can have a rough day, but the only thing that can't change is your attitude. You have to keep going. You have to think you're going to have one more chance to win the ballgame."
After doing his interview, Contreras escorted younger brother William around the Cubs clubhouse. William had Friday off, but is expected to be Atlanta's starting catcher Saturday, marking the first time the Contreras brothers will play against each other at any level.
"I just want to wait until tomorrow to see how it feels like," Willson said. "It's going to be emotional. Especially being the older brother, seeing your younger brother play against you I think is priceless."