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Cubs’ Justin Steele feeds off Wrigley Field energy to record historic first complete game

1 week agoAndy Martinez

As Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” blared over the Wrigley Field speakers, the crowd of 36,948 began to give a loud ovation as Justin Steele emerged from the dugout for the 9th inning, in search of his first major-league complete game.

“Fans are aware at all times of what’s going on and they know how big and special moments are,” Steele said. “They knew it was a special moment for me and for myself. The field, the crowd and the energy, everything behind me, it’s truly special.”

The ovation might’ve lasted longer than the inning itself.

Steele needed just 5 pitches to pick up the final three outs of the game, recording his first complete game — a 95-pitch, 2-hitter in the Cubs’ 5-1 win over the Angels at Wrigley Field.

“That one right there was probably the best baseball moment in my life,” Steele said. “That was really cool and want to keep doing it.

“I believe I said last year — it was one of my goals by the end of the season was to have a complete game. Wasn’t able to get one but was able to get one today and it was definitely something to check off the checklist for me as far as my career goes. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do and hopefully can do it a lot more.”

Steele did it with dominance, efficiency and some defensive masterclasses behind him.

[WATCH: Miles Mastronbuoni flashes leather at the hot corner]

He retired 11 of the first 12 hitters he faced and then, when it looked like a rare defensive miscue could hurt him, Steele locked it in.

With 2 outs in the 4th, Logan O’Hoppe hit a lazy fly ball to right that Seiya Suzuki dropped, an error giving the Angels their second baserunner of the game. Steele walked Brandon Drury but got a fielder’s choice to escape the threat.

When Taylor Ward hit a 2-out, RBI single to make it 3-1 an inning later, Steele again refocused and picked up the final out of the frame.

“Lost my command and feel for like a batter, batter and a half, was able to hone it back in and I’d say after I gave up the run, I kind of caught a groove and put it in cruise control,” Steele said. “Was able to find a good rhythm. Was able to ride that throughout the game.”

Boy, did he.

Steele retired the final 13 hitters he faced, putting an exclamation point on the outing of his career. That made sending Steele out for the 9th a no-brainer for manager Craig Counsell.

“The way the kind of 7th, 8th, 9th worked it was just such limited pitches that it wasn’t like being taxed or anything,” Counsell said. “We had guys going just in case but no doubts there.”

Earlier in the day, Counsell had spoken about Steele’s development arc.

In 2023, Steele turned into the Cubs’ ace.

A year later he’s becoming one of their true leaders.

It’s not the rah-rah type of leadership that was on display in Milwaukee last weekend. No, it’s more like what was shown Friday at Wrigley Field.

“There’s a confidence that you sense with the player,” Counsell said Friday morning. “And when it’s a starting pitcher, it’s just they know what they’re capable of and they also feel that responsibility of like, ‘It’s my job to do this.’ And that’s where you try to get. That’s where pitchers try to get.

“They take games kind of unto themselves, really. [They] can’t completely take [games] onto themselves, there’s obviously a hitting side and defensive side and there’s 9 innings in the game, but I think the great ones, are able to do that. And I think we’ve seen Justin do that at times this year.”

It was on full display Friday afternoon. And Wrigley Field knew it — and the crowd rewarded it with an ovation befitting of a team’s ace.

“It’s so rare in today’s game and it’s great that the crowd recognized it because it just doesn’t happen very much,” Counsell said. “You’re hoping that they see that he’s going out there and giving him that recognition because he certainly deserves it.”

But like the leader he is, after a bit, Steele started looking at the achievement from a team aspect and what a moment like Friday’s can do for a squad that’s underperformed through 89 games.

“We’re a little over half the halfway point and winning streaks happen all the time,” Steele said. “It takes one winning streak to put us in a position to be in a completely different spot than we were a few days ago. So that’s what we want to do.

“We want to show up and just do everything we can to win each ballgame that day and hopefully it turns into a lot more wins.”

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