Kris Bryant, David Ross Added Plenty of Salt to Anthony Rizzo’s Clinchmas Dinner

The Cubs secured the NL Central title Saturday night despite losing four of their last five games, coasting to the finish line on fumes after accelerating to a 13-3 record and creating a lead too big for their competitors to overcome. So even though dropping a sloppy affair to the White Sox on the South Side isn’t the kind of Clinchmas celebration anyone would have preferred, the Cubs may have come out of the game even stronger.

All season they’ve been criticized for having fun in the dugout, for “chirping” and carrying on like a Little League team. Funny, I thought baseball was a game. The antics started to get a little tired, though, especially when the offense started laying goose eggs without making so much as a single omelette.

Then came the epic bat flip from Willson Contreras following a three-run homer in Friday night’s romp. More than just a spontaneous moment, Contreras had been, er, egged on by Anthony Rizzo.

“[Rizzo said], ‘Hey, if you hit a homer, just do something exciting. Just do a bat flip,’” Contreras told reporters after the game. “I was having fun. I hit the ball. I knew that it was gone. I knew that my team needed its swagger back.”

If you watch the video of that flip closely, you’ll see Rizzo nearly tumbling over the dugout railing as he exults in the hilarity of his teammate’s exploit. As fate would have it, a similar celebration would ensue roughly 24 hours later. Ever the instigator, Rizzo saw another opportunity to pump his team up, this time with drip rather than flip.

“Do you trust me?” the first baseman asked Kris Bryant before bestowing him with a pair of chains belonging to Mike Napoli. “There’s some magic in those.”

After singling in his first at-bat, a relatively soft liner that scooted through the right side (though it was a screamer in the box score), Bryant came up in the 3rd with the bases loaded and two out. It was the kind of situation in which the Cubs have failed with comical frequency this season, or at least that’s how it’s seemed. The first three men reached safely via a pair of walks and a hit-by-pitch, but then Contreras singled and no one scored.

Wait, what?

His bouncer just cleared the outstretched glove of José Abreu, but struck Rizzo as he chugged toward second. The dead ball meant the runner was out, but all other baserunners had to stay put. Then Jason Heyward struck out to change the tone of the inning entirely, especially when the man coming up had only just turned his batting average off the interstate and had missed the last few games with an oblique issue.

Whether it was the magic chains serving as Dumbo’s feather or the extra rest allowing him to get closer to full strength, Bryant jumped on a first-pitch slider from Dane Dunning and deposited it just inside the foul pole in left for a grand slam. The clout gave the Cubs a 5-2 lead and, though it would represent the last of their scoring as they fumbled the game away from that point, it had to feel good as hell for KB and Co.

For a little more context on the homer, it was the first Bryant had hit since August 12 in Cleveland. You know, right after a diving attempt in left resulted in two torn ligaments in his left ring finger and a wrist injury significant enough to require a painkilling injection. Dude played through that. What’s more, Dunning had held right-handed batters to a .140 average and .212 wOBA at home coming into the game and his slider has been excellent, so it’s not like this was some chump tossing meatballs.

Cubs fans, though, are a curious lot and some can find ways to be upset about even the most joyful occasions. Take Bryant’s grand slam, the video of which drew mostly negative comments on our Facebook page.

“I don’t really comment on people on Twitter,” David Ross said after the game. “Those people are idiots. Whatever. This is a former MVP. I don’t know what to say to that. This guy wants to be out there, he wants to do well for this organization. He’s done nothing but be a model citizen and a great player since he’s been here, in my opinion.

“That’s part of this job, being criticized. But I don’t search through Twitter to find out what people are saying about Kris Bryant. I don’t care. He’s a great human being, and he’s a great player. And I’m thankful he’s on my team.”

Bryant himself took things to a whole ‘nother level when asked about the criticism he gets for having the gall to get injured and not win the MVP unanimously every season. Oh, and let’s not forget the extension he somehow turned down despite never having actually been presented with one personally. Then there’s the grievance he filed in 2015 that took five years to sort out. Even when he expressed his desire to remain in Chicago and play for the Cubs, people find ways to dismiss him.

Fans who don’t know any better view these things as affronts to their delicate sensibilities and many now mistakenly view one of the best players in franchise history as an entitled prima donna. Never mind that he’s been nothing but forthright and humble while accumulating more WAR than the other 14 picks out of the top 15 in the 2013 draft combined. Heading into this season, only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts had accumulated more WAR since 2015.

Not that that matters to the vitriolic social media contingent, since most of them read only so far as the caption before shitposting. They can’t be bothered by facts when their opinions, which they’re entitled to because it’s a free country, are based on this one thing they heard this one time. Most comments are harmless and have no reach, but the anonymity and ubiquity of the internet emboldens far too many to participate in a venomous echo chamber.

It’s enough to make even the most quiet and unassuming person in the world feel bitter, which is where Bryant’s been pushed by all the idiocy. Try though he might by deleting Twitter, which he called the worst thing ever, there’s really no way to avoid it entirely. So while the grand slam provided as loud an FU as possible, it was Bryant’s literal cursing that took social media by storm.

I don’t give a shit, I really don’t,” Bryant said when asked the constant criticism he receives from all manner of media. “I’m kind of over it. I feel like sometimes I go out there and I could go 4-for-4, and it’s not good enough for some people. So: I. Don’t. Give. A. Shit. How about that?”

Drop the damn mic, my dude. Even those closest to him were taken aback by the language, since he very rarely speaks like that even privately. This feels like the next evolution of a man who took up the mantle as team union rep after Jake Arrieta left and who was then vocal about the “total money-grab” of service-time manipulation. He’s also a father now, something that galvanized Bryant’s priorities by giving him a purpose beyond baseball.

To that extent, it’s almost like the chains allowed him to be someone a little different by assuming a persona with more edge than he’d normally be comfortable displaying. And I gotta tell ya, I’m 100% here for the transformation. It can be incredibly liberating to not care what other people think and to just do the damn thing. If that’s where Bryant has gotten, it’s great news for the Cubs.

Now it’ll be fun to see how many people start trying to take credit if Bryant really gets rolling here, but just know I keep receipts.

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