By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — On Friday evening, Cubs manager Joe Maddon called slumping outfielder Kyle Schwarber to tell him he was dropping him to ninth in the batting order Saturday against the Cardinals.
Mired in a 5-of-58 rut, Schwarber kept perspective.
“I said, ‘Hey, at least I am playing,” Schwarber joked. “I didn’t say anything. He told me his reason. I said, ‘All right, I am going with it.'”
There was good reason for Schwarber to joke Saturday, for he came up big and had a weight lifted off him. What looked like a home loss for the Cubs turned into a 5-3 win against the Cardinals after Schwarber blasted a go-ahead opposite-field grand slam in the seventh inning. It was Schwarber’s first career grand slam, sent Wrigley Field into a frenzy and had Schwarber feeling more confident and relaxed afterward.
“It was obviously nice to come up in that spot and help out,” Schwarber said. “It was kind of a sigh of relief. All I want to do is go up there and help my team.”
Schwarber’s big hit came with two outs after the Cubs loaded the bases on Cardinals right-hander Mike Leake on singles by Jason Heyard and Willson Contreras and a hit by pitch of Jon Jay. Schwarber’s ninth homer of the season came after he had been 0-of-2 on the day.
It also made a winner out of Hector Rondo, who pitched one of the Chicago bullpen’s three scoreless innings after left-hander Jon Lester took a no-decision in going six innings and allowing three runs, all earned, on six hits and three walks while striking out four.
Lester was thrilled for Schwarber.
“Anytime you are struggling, it’s nice,” Lester said about Schwarber’s slump-breaking homer. “You never want to see one of your brothers or family members struggle. That was a big swing for him personally and for the team. Hopefully, this is a sign of good things to come for him.”
The win lifted the Cubs back to .500 at 27-27, and they trailed the first-place Brewers by 1.5 games as of late afternoon. The Cubs have also won first in a row at Wrigley Field, and Lester remains unblemished in the loss column in his last 17 home starts after taking the no-decision.
“The fans have been great since I have been here,” Lester said. “They pack the stands and get up on their feet. They are into it from pitch one to the last pitch. It is our job to keep them involved.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.