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."

Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Barring a Cubs-Angels World Series, the Wrigley Field faithful might not have much of an opportunity to welcome Joe Maddon back to The Friendly Confines.

It didn't take long for Maddon to find a job, as he reportedly agreed this week to join the Los Angeles Angels as their next manager. This was a widely speculated move after the Angels let go of manager Brad Ausmus just one year into a three-year contract immediately after the Cubs announced they were parting ways with Maddon. 

According to ESPN's Jesse Rogers, Maddon's deal will likely be for three years at $4-5 million a season:

Maddon came up as a coach in the Angels system, referencing his three decades there often during the course of his five years in Chicago.

Once the Cubs got rid of Maddon, it was obvious he would have plenty of suitors, as just about any team with a managerial vacancy would be interested in the future Hall of Famer. But instead of going to an up-and-coming team like the Padres or a squad on the cusp of the playoffs like the Phillies, Maddon opted to return to his baseball home.

That means he will most likely not face off against the Cubs over the next couple of seasons, as the Cubs hosted the Angels in 2019 and are not slated to play each other again until 2021 (which will take place in L.A.). Barring the aforementioned World Series meeting, Maddon and the Cubs likely won’t cross paths in Chicago for the next few seasons.

It also means Maddon will get to team up with the best player in the game (Mike Trout) and an exciting young two-way star (Shohei Ohtani) while inheriting a roster that otherwise has some major flaws. The Angels have struggled to build up a roster around Trout over his nine seasons, making the playoffs just once in 2014 and getting bounced from the ALDS by the Kansas City Royals that season.

But the Angels do have some intriguing prospects coming up the system — led by outfielder Jo Adell — and Maddon has experience taking a team and elevating them to contender status immediately. He also carries immediate clout that will help draw free agents to L.A., as he did in Chicago with Jon Lester.

Maddon will be reunited with former Cubs fan favorite Tommy La Stella, who was starring for the Angels earlier this season before a leg injury sent him to the shelf for several months.

In many ways, this is an ideal fit for Maddon, who will get to stay in a big market with a team willing to spend and a roster that at least has some incredible talent from Day 1. It would obviously be a difficult task to try to overtake the juggernaut Houston Astros in the AL West, but he accomplished a similar feat in Chicago when he led the Cubs past the Cardinals in Year 1 (and kept the Cards out of the playoffs for the next three years until their return to October baseball this fall).

The Cubs, meanwhile, have not yet announced a new manager, though David Ross still looms as the favorite to take over Maddon's former gig. Theo Epstein's front office interviewed Mark Loretta, Will Venable, Joe Girardi and Ross earlier this month and also planned to talk to Joe Espada and Gabe Kapler this week.

Epstein said the Cubs are "full speed ahead" to hire a new manager, so expect them to move quickly to finalize Maddon's heir.

Bold predictions for the Cubs' 2019-20 offseason


Bold predictions for the Cubs' 2019-20 offseason

The Cubs are just a couple of weeks away from a pivotal offseason that could see a lot of change coming to Chicago's North Side.

Then again, we thought the same thing a year ago and it turned out Theo Epstein's biggest move last winter was signing Daniel Descalso to a two-year deal.

But after missing the playoffs in 2019, the Cubs are now at a crossroads as an organization. 

The NBC Sports Chicago crew previewed the offseason on the latest CubsTalk Podcast with some bold predictions for the winter.

Listen here and check out the fearless calls below:

(Note: Rationale and more context on each bold prediction in the podcast.)

David Kaplan

1. Cubs are going to take a page out of the Yankees' book and retool on the fly rather than go all-in to contend in 2020.
2. Jose Quintana has thrown his last pitch as a Cub.
3. This will be the second-to-last offseason for Theo Epstein as the Cubs president of baseball operations.

Kelly Crull 

1. Cubs re-sign Nick Castellanos and trade away Kyle Schwarber.
2. Tyler Chatwood will be in the 2020 rotation.
3. John Lackey will be named quality assurance coach on David Ross's coaching staff. (Kidding, but only kind of...)

Tony Andracki

1. Before the Cubs play a Spring Training game, Javy Baez will sign an extension that will keep him in Chicago through at least 2023.
2. Willson Contreras will be traded this winter and the Cubs will get some much-needed pitching help in return.
3. Cubs sign Howie Kendrick this winter as the professional bat and lefty-masher they craved in 2019.
4. Ben Zobrist will return on a one-year deal and finish his playing career in a Cubs uniform.
5. David Bote, Albert Almora Jr. and Addison Russell will all be traded or non-tendered this winter as the Cubs remake their bench/depth.

Jeff Nelson

1. Willson Contreras will sign a contract extension.
2. Ben Zobrist will return as a player/coach.
3. Jose Quintana will be traded for minor league depth.
4. Terrance Gore will be signed to be the 26th man on the roster under the new rules.