The Cubs leave Milwaukee without much to show for the trip.
They lost the series 2-1 and were outscored 15-6 over three games. They placed four players on the COVID-19 related IL, reinstated one, and sent starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks home early and feeling under the weather.
The Cubs did, however, leave their fans one gift: A revived rivalry with the Brewers.
“Tension, energy, rivalry, all that stuff's good for sports,” Cubs manager David Ross said before the Cubs’ 7-0 loss Wednesday to the Brewers.
The Cubs’ rivalry with their neighbors to the north isn’t as storied as the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry. But there is history there.
Cubs fans ruffle feathers by referring to Miller Park (now American Family Field) as “Wrigley North.” And a combination of proximity and NL Central bouts have provided fertile ground for a feud over the years.
Two weeks into this season, a series of hit-by-pitches and a vengeful home run have stoked the flames.
“I sent a message,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said of his game-winning home run on Tuesday. “They picked the wrong guy to throw at.”
Contreras’ statement sums up the newest iteration of the Cubs-Brewers rivalry.
The first series between the two teams this year escalated to a clearing of the benches. The Brewers had hit Contreras in back-to-back games, both on elevated fastballs. Contreras said he didn’t believe either was intentional. But the first time he took the pitch to the helmet. The second time, he confronted Brewers pitcher Brad Boxberger, holding up two fingers.
Then on Tuesday, for the seventh time in the past 14 games against the Brewers, a Milwaukee pitcher hit Contreras.
“I love the fact that he was able to have a little payback last night,” Ross said. “We needed that. We needed that as a group, and I think he needed to get some of that out.”
In the eighth inning, Contreras hit the go-ahead two-run home run that would be the difference in a 3-2 Cubs victory. He took his time getting out of the batter’s box, chucking his bat back toward the Cubs dugout. As he jogged between second and third base, Contreras held a finger to his lips, shushing the crowd.
“We play these teams 18 times a year, six series a year,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said of division rivals. “There's going be times in highly hotly contested games that there's going to be emotions. It's a good thing.”
Cubs pitchers didn’t get out of this series squeaky clean either. Reliever Ryan Tepera threw behind Brewers southpaw Brandon Woodruff the inning after Woodruff hit Contreras. The tension had risen so high throughout the series that it was notable Wednesday when Cubs starter Jake Arrieta pegged Keston Hiura and the situation didn’t escalate.
“I don't think anything's been intentional on either side,” Ross said Wednesday. “I think that things do happen, but the frustration does build after a while.”
For Contreras, that frustration built up into a game-winning moment. For Cubs and Brewers fans, it electrified a rivalry.