Addison Russell is getting one of those reputations. The dude’s clutch.
Russell’s numbers haven’t been terrific this season. He’s one of several Cubs whose averages don’t match the team’s electric start to the campaign. But Russell has been doing plenty of things well, one of them being delivering in clutch situations.
He was at it again Saturday, the 22-year-old shortstop dropping a fly ball on the right-field foul line past the outstretched arm of reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper and driving in a pair of runs to break a 5-all tie in the seventh inning, the game-winning hit in the Cubs’ 8-5 win over the Nationals, their sixth straight.
“I think it’s fun,” Russell said. “You just try and slow the game down, just try do your best to perform out there and just try to have some fun with it.”
Other than Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter in Cincinnati, the most exhilirating moment of this dominant start to the season for the Cubs might be Russell’s game-winning home run in the eighth inning against the Reds on April 11. On April 26, Russell delivered late again, breaking a 1-all tie against the Brewers with a two-run triple in the sixth inning en route to an eventual Cubs win.
Add Saturday’s clutch hit to the list.
“Addy does this all the time,” Maddon said. “You look at Addy’s batting average and look at the productivity driving in runs in crucial moments, he’s really good at that. He doesn’t get going too quickly, too fast.”
The win was an unusual one for these Cubs. The starting pitcher, Jason Hammel, didn’t perform all that well, needing 97 pitches just to get through five innings and departing with his team trailing by two. There was no gigantic margin created by the Cubs’ offense, one that with a gaudy plus-101 run differential has won in mostly blowouts.
No, instead, the Cubs had to prove they could win a back-and-forth battle with a late comeback, and prove that they did.
After Hammel yielded a third-inning sacrifice fly, the Cubs answered with a Dexter Fowler RBI triple and a Kris Bryant solo home run that you wouldn’t have thought possible with the wind blowing in as hard as it was at Wrigley Field.
Hammel’s rocky fifth inning saw the Nationals take a lead with a two-run, two-out rally. But the Cubs responded with their own two-out rally, getting an RBI single from Russell and a two-run single from Ryan Kalish in the sixth.
The Nationals tied things up, turning a leadoff triple into a run in the seventh. But then came Russell’s big hit in the bottom of that inning. Ben Zobrist added a big insurance run with a bases-loaded single in the eighth.
The Cubs got good efforts from the majority of the six pitchers who came in from the bullpen, particularly Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon, who set down all six hitters they faced in order in the eighth and ninth innings.
It was an all-around win, a game that wasn’t the typical blowout the Cubs have gotten used to. But it appears there’s nothing to worry about with a team that’s now won 23 times in its first 29 games. They can win any game in any way.
“Hats off to the hitters, they kept coming back,” Hammel said. “It was one of those see-saw games. We really haven’t had many of those this year, been kind of blowing people out. But today it was never quit. The guys kept coming.”
“When you win games like we did today, that’s the game you can really draw from, where our guys know not to quit,” Maddon said. “Everything we did today was very complementary. The whole group complements each other so well.”
This latest Cubs win was the team’s sixth straight, it’s 23rd of the still-young season. And after fielding mild criticism that their successful April was due in part to a schedule loaded with subpar opposition, these six straight wins have come against playoff-caliber teams from Pittsburgh and Washington.
This team came into the season with sky-high World Series expectations. And through nearly 30 games, no matter what these Cubs face, they seem to have no problem meeting those expectations.
Yes, that celebration room in the fancy new clubhouse is getting quite a bit of use.
“We’re just having a lot of fun right now,” Russell said. “The coaches, they keep it light. The players, they keep it light. We’ve got veterans here that know what they’re doing, and they keep the stress off us.”