CINCINNATI -- For one night, he made us forget about Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta's ongoing command issues and a bullpen that is scaring Cubs fans. He made us forget about the worst stretch of Cubs baseball since Joe Maddon took over at the beginning of 2015. That was also about the same time third baseman/outfielder/first baseman Kris Bryant made his major league debut.
His meteoric rise from collegiate player of the year to No. 2 pick in the draft to Arizona Fall League MVP to minor league player of the year to Rookie of the Year has been a story of one crushed baseball after another. But until Monday night in Cincinnati, Bryant had never had five hits in a game, and Monday's game included three home runs and two doubles. No one in baseball history had that combination of five hits in a game. Not once. Bryant's performance was so outstanding that he almost earned a curtain call -- on the road.
“Guys were pushing me,” Bryant said after the Cubs' 11-8 win over the Cincinnati Reds. “I’ve never been the type to show up the opponent or anybody. I don’t think that’s ever happened in baseball, and I didn’t want to be the first. I’m glad there were a lot of Cubs fans here, but I’m not that guy.”
As good as Bryant is at baseball, he might be a better person. He is class personified. He has stayed grounded and hungry. In the middle of his historic night, he remembered he had missed out on giving his autograph to a young fan sitting near the on-deck circle. Considering he was the first Cubs player since 1885 to record five extra-base hits, you would think he might have forgotten about that, but he made sure to give the boy a bat. Not the bat mind you -- just a bat.
“He doesn’t flamboyantly dunk the basketball, he doesn’t spike the football, and he doesn’t flip the bat,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s a man for all ages.”
Bryant is a man who might rewrite the Cubs' record books when it’s all said and done. If there were ever a player with the right attitude, it’s the one playing third base, left field and right field while going 5-for-5 with three home runs. Who does that? Would Mike Schmidt move around the diamond while hitting all those homers? Would Jackie Bradley Jr., the most recent player to record five extra-base hits in a game?
“That has to take it over the top right there,” Maddon said. “Third base, right field, left field in the same game? I think I was asked a question earlier this year if his offense is affected by where he plays defense. I’d say no.”
That’s because nothing affects Bryant. He’s a robot in the very best of ways. According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, Bryant is the first player in at least 100 years to hit three home runs and play three different positions. Of course he is. After the game, in a loud and raucous Cubs clubhouse, he gave insight into how he thinks.
“I don’t know what happened tonight,” Bryant said. “The last couple of weeks haven’t been what I wanted, so I figured I’m due. Throughout my life, I’ve always been that way, whereas when I’m struggling, I tell myself I’m ready for a big game. I guess tonight was the night.”
That sounds a little cliché, but Bryant knows that if he keeps believing, his abilities will show through. He doesn’t get down, unlike a lot of players. He figures every day he struggles is just one day closer to coming out of it. It’s without a doubt the right attitude to possess in baseball but one that is hard to maintain. But Bryant does, and each struggle or weakness is something for him to attack until it becomes a strength. Road games were one sore spot last season.
“I didn’t like playing on the road,” Bryant said. “This year is a lot different.”
His 12 road home runs this season -- compared to five in all of the past season -- are evidence. Remember when he changed his swing last year because he wasn't hitting enough line drives? He continued in the offseason and went to work on recognizing changeups. He gets better and better meticulously. His slumps are shorter than most because he knows his own swing better than most.
“Tonight was as good as you can hit a baseball, in terms of finding the barrel and putting the right swing on it,” Bryant said. “I felt really good right there.”
Still two weeks from the All-Star game, which he will play in, Bryant has 21 home runs and 57 RBIs. The potential to go from college player of the year to minor league player of the year to rookie of the year to MVP is real -- and unprecedented.
What does he do for an encore? Usually, the more confident a player is, the less superstitious he is. Bryant falls into that category, but his teammates have urged him to wear the same pants on Tuesday, rips from sliding and all. Bryant will.
But what about that bat? The one that produced three home runs and two doubles for the first time in history?
“I’m using it tomorrow,” Bryant said with a smile.
He’s confident -- not stupid. And he's turning into a Cub for the ages.