Chicago is first team to have all three backstops go deep in same postseason
By Matt Kelly
A catcher's tasks over the course of a game are clearly defined: Call the game for the pitcher, coordinate the infield defense and hit at the plate -- usually in that order.
But in this year's National League playoffs, the Cubs' catchers exceeded all expectations at the plate, matching average with power. In fact, Chicago is the first team in history to have all three of its catchers hit a home run in the same postseason, helping to propel the Cubs to their first NL pennant since 1945.
The Cubs' trio of backstops -- Willson Contreras, Miguel Montero and David Ross -- combined to hit .282 (11-for-39) over the first two rounds of the postseason. Each of them also hit a home run that swung a ton of momentum the Chicago's way -- which can't be overstated, considering the amount of history and "curses" the Cubs are contending with this October.
The first clutch homer came from Ross, or 'Grandpa Rossy,' as he's affectionately known to his teammates. The Cubs were ahead 2-1 in the NLDS but trailed the Giants, 1-0, in the top of the third inning in Game 4, and were looking to avoid going back to Wrigley for a winner-take-all Game 5. On an 1-0 count, Ross hit a long fly ball over the left-field wall off Matt Moore to tie the game. With the blast, the 39-year old Ross became the oldest catcher to ever homer in the postseason. The Cubs would eventually claim a breathtaking, come-from-behind 6-5 win to advance to the NLCS.
"We've been down this road together," said John Lackey, Ross' Game 4 batterymate. "I couldn't really root for a better dude. This is his last year. I'd love to be in a fight with him any day of the week."
Four days later, Cubs fans were on the edge of their seats again when Aroldis Chapman's blown save in the top of the eighth tied Game 1 of the NLCS at 3. In the bottom of the frame, Montero -- pinch-hitting for Chapman -- gave them a reason to jump out of those seats in celebration. Montero, who had tallied only four plate appearances in the NLDS, came up with the bases loaded and smacked an 0-2 pitch from the Dodgers' Joe Blanton deep over the right-field wall and into the Chicago night to give his team a reassuring 7-3 lead.
"I thought the roof was coming down from the fans jumping," said teammate Javier Baez.
Montero's first playoff homer sure was a memorable one, as it was the first go-ahead pinch-hit grand slam hit by any player in postseason history. And with an exit velocity of 105.3 mph, according to Statcast™, the shot was Montero's hardest-hit of the year. The Cubs never looked back that night, running away with an 8-4 victory to claim a 1-0 lead in the series.
Contreras' .400 average this postseason is the best of the Cubs' three catchers, but he waited to hit his first home run until one of the most memorable games in franchise history. Facing the venerable Clayton Kershaw in the bottom of the fourth inning in Game 6 on Saturday, Contreras blasted an 0-1 slider at an exit velocity of 105.5 mph for a solo homer that pushed the Cubs' lead to 4-0 on the Dodgers' ace. Contreras' blast was the third-hardest hit homer off Kershaw in 2016, and completed the historic trifecta for Chicago's backstops.
"I don't know if it was a mistake [from Kershaw]," Contreras said after Game 6, "but I was looking for a fastball middle-up and he threw a slider. I got to it. I hit it well. It reminded me of when I hit my first homer."
The Cubs' depth and versatility have been among their leading advantages all season long. If Chicago can continue to get this kind of production up and down the roster during the World Series, it would go a long way toward helping the long-suffering club finally "reverse the curse" for good.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.