What might have been: Bryant plays in Houston

What might have been: Bryant plays in Houston

HOUSTON -- On Friday night, for the first time in his Major League career, Kris Bryant played at Minute Maid Park, which might have been his home with the difference of one Draft pick, and he made the swing of the game with a two-run shot that proved to be the difference in the Cubs' 2-0 win over the Astros, which lowered their magic number to 7.

"Of course KB putting it in the seats wins the game," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

But it could have won it for Houston.

More than four years ago, the Astros, coming off a 51-111 campaign, elected to take pitcher Mark Appel with the top overall pick in the 2013 Draft.

"Thank you," Maddon said of Houston's decision.

That move gave the Cubs the ability to take Bryant, then a 20-year-old third baseman out of the University of San Diego, at No. 2.

Cubs draft 3B Bryant No. 2

Four years later, Bryant is putting up insane numbers, batting .302 with 159 hits, 93 RBIs and 37 home runs, and has emerged as a superstar. Appel, currently with Philadelphia's Triple-A affiliate, still hasn't played a game in the Majors.

"Nothing [Bryant] does surprises me, and right now he's playing as good as he has in the years that I've seen him," Maddon said prior to the game. "His overall consistency in his game, offensively and defensively, everything about his game right now. [You're probably] seeing the best of him over the last two years."

His homer on Friday night came after a walk in the previous at-bat that Bryant said settled him down.

"[Astros starter Joe Musgrove is] a good pitcher," Bryant said. "Really funky, big guy, so he's a special player, for sure."

Bryant's 37 home runs this season are the most by a Cubs player since Aramis Ramirez hit 38 in 2006. Bryant has been instrumental in leading the Cubs to their 24th season in club history with 90 wins or more.

"It still feels like we're just right in the middle of the season, but we feel like we're getting to baseball that actually really matters," Bryant said. "Anything can happen in the full season, so you've got get there first, and we certainly feel like we're playing really good baseball right now."

Looking back on the pre-Draft process four years ago, Bryant doesn't remember much other than that he met much more with the Cubs and Rockies than he did with the Astros.

"Picking first, I feel like they made up their mind early on, so they knew who they were going to pick," Bryant said. "Having the same agent as Mark Appel, it was pretty easy for me to kind of determine where I was going."

With hindsight on his side, it would be easy for Bryant to feel a sense of vindication looking at how the two careers have panned out, but he remains humble.

"After I got drafted, I just wanted to be the best player I could be, and there's no sense of validation," he said. "I don't have an ego like that. I was just very happy to be chosen, and things have worked out great for me."

Boy, have they ever.

Bryant, who has the second-best OPS (.970) and fourth-most game-winning RBIs (14) in the National League, is a key reason why the Cubs have baseball's best record (90-50).

"I wasn't involved in that particular time," said Maddon, who was managing the Rays in 2013, "so I didn't know all the scuttlebutt or the talk, but we probably wouldn't be nearly as good as we are without [Bryant]."

And despite the Astros passing him over back in 2013, he has no hard feelings.

"Looking back on it, I wouldn't change a thing," he said. "I'm very happy here [on] an unbelievable team to play for."

Jordan Ray is a reporter for MLB.com based in Houston. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.