Junior Lake may still be learning the game and what it means to play Major League Baseball, but the Cubs and the city of Chicago are still learning, too.
The jury on Lake is still out, and he proved that again Friday during the Cubs' 8-5 win over the Brewers (60-80) in front of 25,351 at Wrigley Field.
He dealt veteran starter Kyle Lohse the big blow in the first inning, depositing a pitch into the left-field bleachers for his first career grand slam.
His next time up, with runners on first and second and nobody out, Lake could have easily swung for the fences again. Nobody would have blamed him.
Instead, the 23-year-old rookie laid down a perfect bunt, beating the play at first and loading the bases. It eventually led to a two-run single from pitcher Chris Rusin, which proved pivotal in the Cubs picking up their 60th win, tying them with Milwaukee for fourth place in the NL Central.
"You're either savvy or you're not a very selfish player," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said when asked how the bunt base hit speaks to Lake's personality. "It's hard to go up there after hitting a grand slam and thinking about having two homers and seven ribbies in your pocket.
"But it led to the bases loaded and nobody out and we ended up getting two outs of it. It's nice to see a guy thinking about other things than his own stats."
When asked his reasoning for the surprise bunt, Lake said he thought it was the best way to help his team get a win.
"I feel good with my game," he said through a translator. "If they give me [the opportunity to bunt], I'll do that for my team."
Lake was a bit out of his element from Day 1 when the Cubs called him in mid-July. He had played only nine career games in the outfield prior to his promotion, but was immediately inserted in center field. Even though he may have been in over his head, Lake collected three hits -- including a double -- and a stolen base in his debut July 19 in Colorado and hasn't stopped hitting since.
In 45 games with the Cubs, Lake has 55 hits and a .299 average. He's shown a nice combination of power (five homers, 12 doubles) and speed (three steals) while providing a spark on the basepaths and in the field.
Lake has been as polarizing a prospect as there is in the game of baseball. Some experts are insistent he will never make it as a productive big-league player, weighed down by the holes in his game. But others see his raw tools and point to his age (23) and see plenty of room for improvement.
Some of those flaws were evident Friday, as Lake displayed immaturity in the second inning, sailing a throw from left field over the cutoff man and allowing the Brewers to take an extra base. He also showed a lack of patience at the plate in his final two at-bats, flailing at pitches out of the strike zone.
But in the end, it was his positive contributions that helped the Cubs pull out a victory Friday and his attitude could be the deciding factor in his future.
Sveum lauded Lake's work ethic, praising his bunting ability, an asset Lake said he picked up from a lot of hard work.
"He's still adapting to the outfield and his work ethic has been tremendous," Sveum said. "He's done a really, really good job since he's been here."