Willson Contreras highlights another magical night at Wrigley Field

CHICAGO -- Magical seasons consist of magical nights, and Sunday's Chicago Cubs 10-5 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates should go on that list for the home team. The Cubs swept the Pirates, and in the process, opened up a 12 1/2-game lead in the central division -- the second largest lead by June 19 in the divisional era, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

But that's big-picture stuff.

The smaller one on Sunday highlighted yet another Cubs rookie bursting onto the scene in a dramatic moment, while their soft-tossing starter confounded the Pirates en route to a career-high 12 strikeouts.

All of it happened in front of another rabid and sold-out crowd at Wrigley Field that gave not one but two standing ovations to catcher Willson Contreras after he took the first pitch of his major league career out to center field for a home run in the sixth inning. The noise in the stadium at that moment was deafening.

"My dream come true," Contreras would say afterward. "I'm still in the high sky. I can't believe it."

The funny thing is, it's not that hard to believe. Seemingly every rookie who has arrived in Chicago since manager Joe Maddon took over has done so in dramatic fashion. Last week, it was Albert Almora Jr., who threw out a runner at home plate in the first inning of his first start. Now it's Contreras.

"It's exactly how it should work," said Kyle Hendricks, Sunday's winner. "That was awesome to see."

No, it really shouldn't work that way.

There have been thousands and thousands of major league players, but only 116 before Contreras have hit a home run in their first at-bat, let alone their first pitch. This is the Cubs, however: The incredible is happening every night.

One day after a 39-year-old retiring catcher squeeze bunts a teammate across the plate, then hits a go-ahead home run, the Cubs fifth starter -- the one that averages 84.9 mph per pitch -- demolishes his previous high for strikeouts with a dozen in just six innings of work on Sunday.

"Best my changeup has been all year," Hendricks said. "Maybe all last year. Threw it a lot.

"I never go into a game trying to do that. Today, it was just the changeup. That was the answer. Today was kind of a special day."

According to ESPN Stats and Information data, Hendricks struck out seven Pirates on his changeup -- including former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen three times. He also didn't walk anyone.

"Great location," Maddon said. "Great movement. Kept repeating his delivery.

"Movement like that hitters do not like. There's a little funk how he throws the ball."

The word "funk" might be the right one to use for the Pirates these days.

It wasn't long ago that Pittsburgh starter Gerrit Cole said the Cubs weren't the best team in baseball. Chicago is 8-1 against Pittsburgh, who figured to be their biggest challenger in the division this season. The Pirates have been anything but a threat and now they -- and the rest of the division, including Monday's opponent, the St. Louis Cardinals -- have to contend with yet another talented young player. While the Pirates featured a hotshot rookie pitcher on Sunday and a rookie catcher making his debut, it was Cubs catcher Contreras who stole the show with one pitch.

"This is an amazing feeling," Contreras said later. "Incredible. I don't have words to explain how happy I am."

As he stepped to the plate in the sixth inning, pinch hitting for Hendricks, the crowd rose for the occasion, acknowledging the latest promising farm system product. After a mound visit by the Pirates' pitching coach built the drama in the air, Contreras popped it like a balloon, sending the 41,024 in attendance into a frenzy.

Then came the curtain call, which was also surreal for Contreras. Four other Cubs home runs and even Hendricks' Kerry Wood-like performance, were overshadowed by one swing. But like most rookies, after it was over, it was back to helping out. Contreras was immediately asked to warm up some relievers.

"That was funny," he said. "After I hit a home run, they said, ‘Hey, I know you're happy, but you have to go to the bullpen.'"

It didn't take away from his performance. Now he'll get a chance at a full game on Monday, as he'll start with John Lackey on the mound.

But Sunday was one for the books.

"That home run was special," Maddon said.

So was the whole night.