Addison Russell’s walk-off homer sends the message for Cubs: ‘We never quit’

Addison Russell’s walk-off homer sends the message for Cubs: ‘We never quit’

The Cubs showed so much guts and resiliency during their championship season that they had "WE NEVER QUIT" inscribed on the bottom of the outer band to their World Series rings.

Not even 10 percent into the schedule, it's still way too early to draw any grand conclusions about the 2017 team. But largely the same group of players – supremely talented and a year older and a year wiser – has already shown some of those essential qualities.

Addison Russell flipped his bat to the ground and had a little bounce in his steps on Wednesday after he connected with a 97-mph fastball from Neftali Feliz, launching it into Wrigley Field's left-field bleachers for a three-run, walk-off homer. Russell tossed his helmet aside and jumped into the mosh pit awaiting at home plate, teammates pouring bottled water on him after a dramatic 7-4 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

"Just don't give up – that's the type of style that we play," Russell said. "It seems like whenever you kind of count us out, we seem to have a spark. That's all it takes – one hit, one walk and we get rolling."

That comeback ended the homestand where the Cubs finally raised a World Series banner, got their championship bling and unofficially ended their 2016 victory tour. The defending champs are 8-7 and have won four of their first five series this season, hoping this creates a sense of momentum for a three-city road trip that goes through Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Boston.

"There's been a lot going on, a lot of outside factors pushing against us," said Kyle Hendricks, who has a 6.19 ERA after a four-run, five-inning start against the Brewers. "It was a tough stretch for a little bit there, but these teams we're playing, man, they're coming for us. We have the target on our backs."

Friday will mark the two-year anniversary of Russell's big-league debut. He's still only three months removed from his 23rd birthday. He's already been a 21-homer, 95-RBI, All-Star shortstop, one of the clutch hitters for a championship team.

Russell delivered in the eighth inning by softly lifting a Corey Knebel curveball over the head of first baseman Eric Thames and just beyond the infield dirt for an RBI single that sliced Milwaukee's lead to 4-3.

[MORE CUBS: Kris Bryant to Eric Thames: 'Dude, we got to hit together']

It didn't matter that Knebel and Feliz struck out Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr. and Javier Baez to kill that rally – or that the starting lineup didn't feature Kyle Schwarber, Ben Zobrist or Jason Heyward and the afternoon began with a 55-minute rain delay and Hendricks putting the Cubs in a 3-0 deficit by the second inning.

The day after another comeback win over the Brewers (8-8), Mike Montgomery, Pedro Strop, Koji Uehara and Wade Davis combined to throw four scoreless innings while pinch-running reliever Carl Edwards Jr. scored the game-winning run.

"We just keep coming back for more," manager Joe Maddon said. "It was really one of those ugly wins, but you'll take 'em any day of the week.

"We don't quit. It's on the ring, man, and that's a perfect example."

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio


Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

"Of course," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said in the middle of the National League Championship — he would like his coaches back in 2018. Pitching coach Chris Bosio told the team's flagship radio station this week that the staff expected to return next year. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein didn't go that far during Friday afternoon's end-of-season news conference at Wrigley Field, but he did say: "Rest assured, Joe will have every coach back that he wants back."

That's Cub: USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale first reported Saturday morning that Bosio had been fired, a source confirming the team declined a club contract option for next year and made a major influence on the Wrigleyville rebuild a free agent. Epstein and Bosio did not immediately respond to text messages and the club has not officially outlined the shape of the 2018 coaching staff.

Those exit meetings on Friday at Wrigley Field are just the beginning of an offseason that could lead to sweeping changes, with the Cubs looking to replace 40 percent of their rotation, identify an established closer (whether or not that's Wade Davis), find another leadoff option and maybe break up their World Series core of hitters to acquire pitching. 

The obvious candidate to replace Bosio is Jim Hickey, Maddon's longtime pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays who has Chicago roots and recently parted ways with the small-market franchise that stayed competitive by consistently developing young arms like David Price and Chris Archer.

Of course, Maddon denied that speculation during an NLCS where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game and the manager's bullpen decisions kept getting second-guessed.

Bosio has a big personality and strong opinions that rocked the boat at times, but he brought instant credibility as an accomplished big-league pitcher who helped implement the team's sophisticated game-planning system.

Originally a Dale Sveum hire for the 2012 season/Epstein regime Year 1 where the Cubs lost 101 games, Bosio helped coach up and market short-term assets like Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija. 

Those win-later trades combined with Bosio's expertise led to a 2016 major-league ERA leader (Kyle Hendricks) and a 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta) plus setup guys Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell.

Bosio helped set the foundation for the group that won last year's World Series and has made three consecutive trips to the NLCS. But as the Cubs are going to find out this winter, there is a shelf life to everything, even for those who made their mark during a golden age of baseball on the North Side.

Report: Cubs fire pitching coach Chris Bosio after six seasons with team


Report: Cubs fire pitching coach Chris Bosio after six seasons with team

In Theo Epstein's end of season press conference on Friday he said that any coach Joe Maddon wants back will return in 2018.

Evidently, there's one coach Maddon didn't want back.

According to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the Cubs have fired longtime pitching coach Chris Bosio.

Bosio served as the Cubs pitching coach from 2012-17. He was the team's pitching coach under former managers' Dale Sveum (2012-13) and Rick Renteria (2014), and was retained when Maddon was hired as manager of the Cubs in 2015.

Bosio, who is one of the most respected pitching coaches in baseball, was instrumental in the career resurgence of Jake Arrieta who captured the Cy Young award in 2015, and the development of 27-year-old starter Kyle Hendricks (MLB's ERA leader in 2016).

One reason that could've led to Bosio's firing was the pitching staff's control issues during both the regular season and postseason, which Epstein mentioned during Friday's press conference. The Cubs issued the fifth-most walks (554) in the National League during the regular season and the highest total (53) during the postseason.

As the Cubs hit the market for a new pitching coach, Nightengale mentioned that one name that could be on the radar is former Tampa Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey, who parted ways with the organization following the 2017 season.

Hickey served as Maddon's pitching coach in Tampa Bay from 2006-2014.