ST. LOUIS -- Willson Contreras celebrated his 25th birthday a day early with his first multihomer game and a key defensive play in the Cubs' 3-2 win over the Cardinals.
There's something about Busch Stadium that makes Contreras hit home runs. Cardinals starter Mike Leake entered the series opener having given up one homer this season, and on Friday night he served up two in the first four innings to Contreras, who connected in back-to-back at-bats.
Contreras smacked his third homer of the season with one out in the second to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead, and then he led off the fourth with another blast. Contreras also homered at Busch Stadium on Opening Day April 2, so three of his four homers this season have come in St. Louis.
"I don't know what's going on at this ballpark," Contreras said. "I'm seeing the ball pretty well over here. I talked to my coaches, and they gave me a lot of good tips that I put in play today."
Both were well struck on Friday. Contreras' first home run, with an exit velocity of 109.5 mph, set a personal best for his hardest-hit homer, according to Statcast™.
"It wasn't a bad pitch," Leake said of Contreras' first homer. "It was elevated enough for him, obviously, but he was ready to hit and put a couple good swings on a couple mistakes."
Then Contreras broke his personal record with a 113.6-mph shot that had a projected distance of 418 feet.
The 113.6-mph exit velocity was the second-hardest by a Cubs player on a home run in the Statcast™ Era (2015-17), after a 114.1-mph homer by Jorge Soler last Sept. 15.
The catcher was more thrilled at a play in the seventh when the Cardinals had runners at first and second and two outs, and he picked off Dexter Fowler at first base to end the inning.
"[Fowler] got big over there," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said, "and Willson is so good back there. It's a big play for us. We try to save [that play] for when we need it."
"Rizzo was ready for the pick, and he gave me the sign," Contreras said. "I give him a lot of credit. Dexter was really far and he was getting back to first base. I have no doubt to throw to first because I know the timing was well and Rizzo did a good job on that one."
But the two also combined on an error in the Cardinals' ninth that could've cost the Cubs the game. With two outs, Randal Grichuk was at second after a walk and stolen base. Wade Davis struck out Kolten Wong, but Contreras dropped the ball and had to throw to first. The throw was high, and Grichuk scored on the error while Wong reached second.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon joked that Contreras made a "503-mph throw to first," while Rizzo said, "It's coming at 110 [mph] it seems like."
"To be honest," Contreras said, "I didn't throw that one hard. I was making sure I made a good throw. I think it was hard for [Rizzo] to see it, and that's why we had an error."
Davis struck out pinch-hitter Matt Adams to end the game, and give the Cubs their second win in the last seven games.
Contreras turns 25 on Saturday. He'll remember this birthday.
"It feels good when you square the ball like that and you have a play at first," Contreras said. "To get [the team] back on track is all that matters."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.