Walk-off superheroes: Cubs put MLB on notice in thriller over Dodgers


Walk-off superheroes: Cubs put MLB on notice in thriller over Dodgers

The Cubs are coming.

In fact, you could make the case they've already arrived.

The Cubs walked it off over the Los Angeles Dodgers in 10 innings Tuesday night in a 1-0 thriller in front of 36,799 fans at Wrigley Field.

This was the Cubs' ninth walk-off victory of the year, tops in Major League Baseball. They are now 8-3 in extra inning contests.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

"The thing we've been harping on since spring training was to play nine innings hard every night," manager Joe Maddon said. "You just have to keep coming after them. You can't quit. The word 'grinding' is used a lot in Major League Baseball, but we just had to convince our guys that that's the way to do this.

"It doesn't just happen. You have to take things. Nobody gives you anything here.

"I love the way our guys are going about their business."

Little-used outfielder Mike Baxter led off the 10th with a single and Matt Szczur - who homered off Clayton Kershaw Monday night - followed with an infield hit off the glove of Alberto Callaspo at third base. Pinch-hitter Dexter Fowler was swinging away - "We eschewed the bunt," Maddon said - and ended up walking to load the bases with nobody out.

Rookie Addison Russell then fought off pitch after pitch from Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen before bouncing a grounder to Adrian Gonzalez at first base, who threw home to get the force.

[MORE - Addison Russell gaining confidence as he gets back to playing his game]

Chris Denorfia - who entered the game in the eighth - was up next and delivered the game-winner: a fly ball to left center that brought home Szczur.

That makes four wins in a row for the Cubs, including back-to-back victories against a team that leads the National League West and started Kershaw and Zack Greinke in the first two games of the series.

"I think you're looking at a team coming together and it has been together," Denorfia said. "We're all pulling in the same direction. There's no individuals in this locker room. We all know what we're playing for and how to get there.

"I think you saw the last couple days just what we're capable of - pitching awesome, playing good defense and getting some timely hits."

The Cubs forced Greinke to throw 111 pitches through six innings, getting into the Dodgers bullpen somewhat early on a night when neither team was able to muster up any offense.

Jason Hammel was magnificent for the Cubs, throwing 7.2 innings, allowing only two hits and two walks. One of those hits was a pop fly off the bat of Yasiel Puig that Szczur and Baxter lost in the lights.

Hammel had struggled in his last two starts leading up to Tuesday, giving up four earned runs on 10 hits and five walks in nine innings earlier in the month. He said the key to Tuesday was fastball command, which makes him a "different pitcher."

[MORE: Maddon expects Cubs front office will deliver at trade deadline]

The Cubs are 39-30, sitting with the third-best record in the National League and in the second wild card spot if the season ended Tuesday night.

But it's still only June. More than half the season is left, as Hammel made sure to point out - "We've got three months to go."

That being said, there's plenty of reason for optimism on the North Side.

"We don't quit," Hammel said. "Twenty-five guys on this team that are gonna make some type of help to the game at some point. They're going to make some type of impression on the team, whether it's one at-bat, one swing, one throw.

"The guys are ready to play. It's all hands on deck right now. It's been like that for three months and it's not gonna change."

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.”

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."