Jason Heyward’s home run is a gift to Cubs and his former teammate Freddie Freeman
Jason Heyward didn’t need to unlock his phone.
He knew the first text message waiting for him was going to be from his friend and former teammate, Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman.
“I know he already texted me,” Heyward admitted after the Cubs’ thrilling, 4-2 come-from-behind win over the Brewers.
Back on August 9, Freeman had messaged Heyward wishing him a happy birthday and telling him that, as a birthday present, he was going to hit a home run.
Freeman followed through with that promise. With a runner on in the 3rd inning in the second game of a doubleheader against the Phillies, Freeman crushed a line drive home run to left field to give the Braves a 3-0 lead. The Braves would go on to win that game 8-0.
It was a nice gift for Heyward, but it lingered in the back of his mind.
Still, Heyward has never been a prolific home run hitter, amassing just 149 in his 11-year career going into Saturday’s game. So, he didn’t want to promise anything he wasn’t 100-percent sure he could deliver on.
Through 8 innings, it looked as though Heyward had made the right call by not guaranteeing anything to Freeman. He was 0-for-3 on the day with 2 strikeouts and the Cubs were being shutout. Heck, even if he promised a hit to the birthday boy, his chances were looking slim.
In the 9th things looked bleaker. The Brewers turned to the reigning back-to-back NL Reliever of the Year, Josh Hader. Heyward was due up fourth in the inning, so the Cubs would need to get at least one man on to even give Heyward another plate appearance. Javy Báez and Anthony Rizzo provided back-to-back singles to ensure Heyward got another at-bat.
But still, the odds of going deep against Hader were thin. Heyward was a career 1-for-8 against Hader with 3 strikeouts. Heyward took the first two pitches, a four-seam fastball for a ball and a slider for a strike. He swung and missed at the third pitch, a four-seamer up in the zone.
“He was throwing his slider for strikes tonight,” Heyward said. “That’s huge. When he has that going, you’re also in, like, all right, lemme just tip my cap to him.”
That’s when his approach slightly changed. He knew Hader’s arsenal was strong and his pitches were on, so Heyward focused on keeping his swing short and compact, and trying to just put the ball in play to score Báez, who was at third, and advance the speedy Billy Hamilton who pinch ran for Rizzo.
“You really can’t care,” Heyward said of the 2-strike situation. “You gotta be ready, be on time and get a pitch to hit and not try to do too much with it.”
That’s exactly what he did. Hader threw him another fastball, this one inside and Heyward kept his swing short, just like he intended and within a few seconds, had given the Cubs an improbable lead against Hader and the Brewers.
Immediately after the homer, which gave the Cubs arguably their biggest win of the season, Heyward’s mind raced away from Miller Park.
“[Freeman had] hit a homer,” Heyward said. “I was thinking that. I didn’t tell him I was gonna hit a homer, but it’s nice to hit one on his and return the favor.”
And Heyward had the perfect reply for Freeman lined up.
“There you go, happy 31st, returned the favor, bro,” Heyward said.
It’s a perfect gift for the Cubs, just as much as it is for Freeman.