David Ross' movie gets a perfect ending with World champion Cubs

David Ross' movie gets a perfect ending with World champion Cubs

CLEVELAND - At first, it looked as if David Ross' "storybook season" was going to end on a horrendous note.

After entering Game 7 of the World Series in the middle of the fifth inning, the veteran catcher - playing in the final game of his career - committed an error on the very first batter he was on the field for, throwing Jason Kipnis' swinging bunt into the stands down the first-base line.

A couple pitches later, Ross couldn't block a wild pitch that wound up bouncing so far away, two Indians runs came around to score.

Just like that, the Cubs' 5-1 lead had evaporated into a tense 5-3 cushion.

"That's not how it was scripted," Ross said.

Of course, Ross then stepped up the next inning and drilled a solo homer to center field off Indians dominant reliever Andrew Miller, becoming the oldest player to homer in a Game 7 in baseball history.

Miller had previously given up just one earned run in 25.1 postseason innings entering Game 7.

A good three hours after his homer, Ross was still trying to process it.

"I cannot believe I homered," said Ross, who also played with Miller in Boston. "I honestly can't. Off Andrew Miller, too - one of the nastiest guys I've ever faced and caught.

"The guys kept coming up to me while I was trying to focus on catching and they're like, 'Dude, you just homered in Game 7 off Andrew Miller!' I'm like, "Stop telling me that! I can't think about that right now.'

"And then in the celebration, [Eric] Hinske, who is an ex-teammate of mine and our assistant hitting coach, said 'Yeah, I can't believe you homered. I was crying on the bench. I couldn't get my emotions in check.'

"It was a special night."

What a way to send Ross out - ending a 108-year championship drought in what may be the greatest baseball game ever played.

Ross, 39, believes he has grasped the magnitude of what these Cubs accomplished and what a World Series championship means to the fanbase and the city.

"What a storybook ending for an unbelievable 15- or 16-year career, whatever he's had," Jon Lester said. "You always dream about it. I hope we're all fortunate enough to win a World Series in our last year when we announce our retirement."

That word - "storybook" - has been thrown around by Ross and his teammates over the last few weeks. 

Ross was the starting catcher in the first World Series victory at Wrigley Field since 1945, when he and Lester kept the Indians at bay in a thrilling 3-2 victory in Game 5.

That could've been it - the last time Ross took the field in his career.

But Lester made himself available out of the bullpen for Game 7 and that's right where Joe Maddon went when he took starter Kyle Hendricks out of the game with two outs in the fifth inning.

And the game ended with the Cubs carrying Ross of the field on their shoulders like a remake of "Rudy."

"Everything has been so storybook," Ross said. "I feel like I've been in this movie that's been happening since spring training personally and with this group. You can't write what's gone on.

"I caught a no-hitter. Best team in baseball - first time I've ever been a part of a team over 100 wins."

When the Cubs signed Lester, they also brought Ross in as a package deal, and not just because he was Lester's personal catcher.

Ross helped institute a culture change in the Cubs clubhouse, acting as a steady veteran presence for all the young talent getting its first taste of life in the big leagues.

It's worked, as the Cubs have won 215 games since Ross signed, including five playoff series and, of course, one World Series.

"With David leaving, he's taught us so much," Kyle Schwarber said. "I wish that we could have that guy for another five years because he was very important to our clubhouse and to our team."

Ross had his best offensive season since 2010 and if his teammates want him back, would he ever rethink his retirement proclamation?

"I mean, how do you come back after this?" he said. "I would kick my own you-know-what after this. My family, my wife, these guys what a treat. I'm so, so lucky. 

"I'm gonna come back, but I'm gonna come back just to get that ring. I'm gonna come back just to heckle [Anthony Rizzo] from the seats near first base. 

"I'm gonna come back every once in a while just to enjoy a wonderful city that has treated me so nice."

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”