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The baseball rolled along the ledge of the batter’s eye before settling just beyond the 400-foot marker on the center-field wall at American Family Field.
During the final two innings of the Chicago Cubs’ 6-4 win Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers, the home run ball remained a visual reminder of Patrick Wisdom’s history-making moment in the top of the eighth.
The Cubs offense hadn’t done much, managing only two hits through seven innings. The stage was set for Wisdom, though, after Willson Contreras’ 14-pitch walk and back-to-back first-pitch RBI doubles from Matt Duffy and Frank Schwindel put the Cubs ahead 3-2.
Wisdom entered the at-bat with seven consecutive strikeouts but got ahead in the count against Brewers right-hander Jandel Gustave. When he saw a sinker down in the zone, he hammered the ball over the center-field wall for a three-run homer that set a Cubs rookie home run record. His 27th of the season broke a tie with Kris Bryant (26 in 2015).
“The one thing that I love about Patrick is that he just keeps having his at-bats,” manager David Ross said. “It hadn’t been the best series for him offensively, a lot of swing and miss in there, and he continues to be that threat.
“And that’s what he brings. He plays good defense. He’s versatile. He’s got real thump in the bat, and the fact he breaks the rookie record for this organization with some really talented players that have been here and in that fashion was awesome. We needed it. He needed it.”
The 30-year-old Wisdom accomplished the feat despite not getting called up until May 25. Wisdom’s home run rate puts him in rare company. If he has 36 or fewer plate appearances during the Cubs’ last 12 games, he would become only the 13th player in MLB history to hit at least 27 homers in 390 PAs or fewer.
“It’s a life thing too; it isn’t necessarily baseball,” Wisdom said. “You’re going to get knocked down plenty of times and you’ve just got to get back up and keep moving forward. And then you come out stronger on the other end and you can look back and be like: ‘I got through those times. I can make it through this next obstacle that’s in front of me.’
“Being resilient in your mindset and your mental fortitude can take you a long ways to get you over any obstacle in front of you.”
Sunday’s milestone home run was extra special for Wisdom: His wife and two daughters were at the game. He hoped to get the home run ball back and authenticated. A member of the Brewers grounds crew brought out a ladder after the game to retrieve the ball.
“It’s just a testament to the support system I have with my parents and my family, my brother,” Wisdom said, “and then the staff here does a great job of pumping you full of positivity and confidence and just helping you go out there and stay on the next pitch.”
Wisdom needs to reduce his strikeout rate and be a little more well-rounded at the plate, but his punishing power can be an important asset for the Cubs lineup next year.
While the former first-round pick showed why the St. Louis Cardinals selected him nine years ago, another previously highly regarded prospect’s career has taken a different turn. Ever since the Cubs drafted right-hander Dillon Maples in the 14th round of the 2011 draft, his potential has tantalized.
Effectively harnessing his stuff continued to elude Maples, however, culminating in his being designated for assignment before Sunday’s victory. Aside from two stints on the injured list, Maples, 29, spent the whole season in the majors. He did not have any minor-league options remaining, resulting in the DFA when the Cubs determined they wanted to go in a different direction.
“This guy has worked his tail off to continue to evolve, try to get his stuff in the zone consistently, and we’re just at a point in the season, in his career, it was just getting to a space where we wanted to take some looks at some other guys and roster crunches,” Ross said. “There’s still some people in the organization that feel like we’d just run out of time.
“We wish him the best in his career, and hopefully for his sake he catches on with somebody and is able to have a long, successful major-league career. It just doesn’t look right now at this time it’s going to be with us.”
Maples was part of the same Cubs draft class as Javier Báez, and the divergent paths they took are stark. Although Báez was the No. 9 pick in the first round, the Cubs, then led by general manager Jim Hendry, signed him for only $125,000 more than Maples. The organization believed in Maples’ potential and tried to help him develop the consistency needed to succeed in the majors. Ultimately, it didn’t work out between the sides despite Maples getting looks each year.
During 28 relief appearances in 2021, Maples posted a 2.59 ERA and a 28.8% strikeout rate but often struggled with his command. He had an 18% walk rate and hit eight batters and uncorked five wild pitches in 31⅓ innings.
“It’s frustrating for him and everybody,” Ross said. “You want to try to get the most out of every player. When stuff doesn’t work out for a player, it just feels like our responsibility, especially when you have that type of stuff.
“You hate to see it. You see this a lot with players that maybe somewhere down the line, somebody else is able to figure it out. We’ve put a lot of effort in trying to help him in that. We just haven’t been able to do that for him.
“Sometimes you feel like as a staff you’ve failed him in some way and you want what’s best for the player because the stuff, it really is intriguing.”