Cubs

Call him Mr. Walk-Off: Starlin Castro does it again for Cubs

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Call him Mr. Walk-Off: Starlin Castro does it again for Cubs

Starlin Castro is earning himself a new nickname: Mr. Walk-Off.

The shortstop played game-winning hero for the second night in a row Sunday, capping the Cubs’ 2-1 victory with a basehit into the left-center field gap to plate Chris Coghlan in the 11th inning of yet another walk-off win at Wrigley Field.

Before the game, teammates talked about how clutch Castro is. Sunday night, he showed it again. He picked up his third walk-off hit of the season. The Cubs have won a majors-leading eight games via the walk-off hit.

Celebrations are becoming commonplace on the Wrigley infield.

“I love the way our team battled, and it’s just getting to be our signature, just never giving up, never quitting and battling right to the end,” Cubs catcher David Ross said. “And it’s easy to sleep at night when you do that.”

[MORE CUBS: Walking off an important part of Cubs' lesson in winning]

It’ll be sweet dreams for Castro, who came up with one clutch hit after another during this series with the visiting Reds. Friday night, he smacked a two-run, game-tying homer in the sixth inning of what ended up being an extra-inning loss. Saturday and Sunday, he broke late-night stalemates with game-finishing hits.

It’s a series of redemptive knocks for a player who’s often been the target of fan frustration. This weekend, those boos were replaced by cheers heard through the hand claps of “Go Cubs Go.”

“Because he’s been around a little while, people may pick on him a little bit more because they kind of expect more out of him. He’s still learning,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I talk to him a lot. His entire game, he’s learning and he’s listening. It’s not like he thinks he knows it all. Believe me, he does not even come across that way one bit. He knows he’s got a lot to learn. He listens, he asks good questions. His work is spectacular. So understand he’ll just keep getting better. He’s an easy target, he’s got a big target on his back. But he handles it great.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Starlin Castro jersey right here]

Castro went 3-for-5 on Sunday night, and his game-clinching RBI was his fifth in the last three games.

But aside from just his heroics with the bat, he helped save a run with his arm, completing a terrific relay throw to Ross, who applied a tag to nab Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips at home plate in the top of the sixth.

Castro was part of a cavalcade of Cubs who made the biggest of differences on Sunday night. The North Siders couldn’t have won without seven strong innings from Jon Lester, terrific defense in the outfield, a scoreless performance by a quintet of relief pitchers or a manufactured run courtesy of a Dexter Fowler sacrifice fly.

But Castro delivered the game’s biggest hit, and so he gets to be at the bottom of another infield pile.

Sunday was his third time in 2015, and according to his teammates, it’s unlikely to have been his last.

“Starlin, we’ve got a lot of confidence in him when he’s at the plate,” Ross said. “He puts the bat on the ball, he comes through in the clutch, he can hit the ball to all fields. I’ve seen that too many times being the catcher on the other side. I think we have a lot of confidence in Starlin when he’s at the plate.”

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.