Bring on Game 7: Cubs force winner-take-all conclusion to World Series with offensive explosion


Bring on Game 7: Cubs force winner-take-all conclusion to World Series with offensive explosion

CLEVELAND — It wasn't quite "we will see you tomorrow night," but Addison Russell delivered a similar moment for the Cubs franchise in Game 6 Tuesday night.

Kirby Puckett's blast clinched a walk-off victory in Game 6 for the Minnesota Twins back in 1991 when Jack Buck made the iconic call.

Russell's was just a third-inning homer, but it had the same effect with another Buck generation (Joe, Jack's son) on the FOX game broadcast.

Russell delivered the knockout blow to the Indians, a grand slam to give the Cubs a seven-run lead as they forced a Game 7 with a 9-3 victory in front of a raucous crowd at Progressive Field in Cleveland.

The grand slam was the first in Cubs World Series history and Russell's six RBI tied for most in a World Series game in baseball history.

The last World Series grand slam came when Russell was just 11 years old — Paul Konerko's shot in 2005 during the White Sox championship run.

Kris Bryant got things started with a two-out homer off Josh Tomlin on an 0-2 pitch in the first inning. 

Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist followed with singles and then the Indians outfielders let Russell's liner drop, plating Rizzo and causing a collision at home plate where Zobrist jarred the ball loose for another two-out tally.

Kyle Schwarber led off the third with a walk and after Bryant flew out, Rizzo and Zobrist singled again to load the bases and setting the stage for Russell's heroics.

Russell may have the biggest hits of the postseason for the Cubs, as his emergence in Games 4 and 5 in Los Angeles changed that entire National League Championship Series around.

"Yeah, I feel like that was the hit of the night there. Anytime you get four runs on one swing, and to go up, I think it was 7-0, that was huge," Bryant said. "He's had a lot of big home runs this postseason. That might have been the biggest.

"So just watching him, he's unbelievable, man. He's 22 years old, Gold Glove, hitting homers in the World Series. He's a pretty special player."

Rizzo added on with a two-run homer in the top of the ninth to increase the lead.

Jake Arrieta was near-dominant again, allowing just two runs (both scored by Chicagoland native Jason Kipnis) in 5.2 innings with nine strikeouts.

Aroldis Chapman used 20 pitches to record four outs in the seventh and eighth innings before Pedro Strop and Travis Wood combined to nail down the final three outs.

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

The Cubs took Monday off to recharge after a stressful, pressure-packed weekend in Wrigleyville.

"I think it helped for today," Rizzo said. "Having that day off was nice for us to be able to dissect how we just won that game."

The Cubs hoped getting to Cleveland would take the pressure, anxiety and weight of the fanbase off them and put it squarely on the Indians fans.

For one day at least, it appeared as if that worked, as the Cubs scored almost as many runs Tuesday night as they pushed across in the first five games of the World Series (10). They hammered out 13 hits and three walks against six Indians pitchers, only going down in order in two of the nine offensive innings.

"It’s just the way baseball is," Schwarber said. "You’re feeling sexy about yourself. You’re feeling confident in yourself. 

"When you come to the field and you got a couple knocks under your belt or a homer under your belt, you feel sexy about yourself."

The Cubs and Indians now square off in what is probably the most highly-anticipated baseball game in American history — two teams with the longest active championship droughts (108 and 68 years, respectively) playing a winner-take-all Game 7 featuring what may be the game's two Cy Young winnters (Kyle Hendricks vs. Corey Kluber).

It doesn't get much better than that.

"There's no tomorrow after tomorrow," Rizzo said. "It's an elimination game. You lose, you go home. You win, you're a hero. Thats' just the way it is."

A Hobbled Hero: Baez, Cubs keep finding wild ways to win

A Hobbled Hero: Baez, Cubs keep finding wild ways to win

Javy Baez has only seen one pitch in the Cubs-Phillies series, but that's all he needs to make a major impact.

"El Mago" notched his first walk-off RBI since May 8, 2016 in the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday night, lacing the only pitch he saw from Juan Nicasio down the right-field line. Baez had missed the entire series to that point due to a heel injury he suffered Sunday in Washington D.C. and actually underwent an MRI before Tuesday's game to make sure there was no other damage.

Baez's single put the finishing touches on the Cubs' first win this season when trailing after eight innings. They now lead the majors with five walk-off victories.

After another blown lead by the bullpen (the third in the last week), the Cubs entered the bottom of the ninth down 2-1, but Kris Bryant led off with a walk and then Anthony Rizzo doubled. After a Willson Contreras flyout, Jason Heyward was intentionally walked and then Albert Almora Jr. hit a tapper in front of home plate that Bryant just barely beat out at home to tie the game.

Then came Baez, as Joe Maddon opted to go to the hobbled star in place of Daniel Descalso, who was 0-for-4 on the evening to that point.

Prior to the ninth inning, Maddon wasn't sure if Baez would even be available to pinch hit in the game, but trainer P.J. Mainville taped up Javy's foot/ankle at the start of the inning and gave the Cubs skipper the all-clear.

"Just give PJ some credit on the tape job," Maddon joked. "This is right out of the Lombardi era kind of stuff. Tape and aspirin — go ahead and play. That's what everybody's football coach said."

If Baez hadn't delivered the walk-off hit and the Cubs wound up in extra innings, Maddon said he didn't know if Baez would be able to even play the field on his injured heel and the only player left on the bench was backup catcher Victor Caratini.

"In moments like that, you can only think it so far," Maddon said. "And then at some point, you gotta throw it at the wall and see what happens."

Maddon doesn't know if Baez will be able to play Wednesday night, but plans to make two lineups and then check with the shortstop to see about his status when he arrives at the field.

Baez's Cubs teammates are no longer surprised at the ridiculous things he does or how easy he makes some very difficult tasks look. Bryant joked he was actually upset Baez didn't hit it over the fence for a walk-off grand slam.

"I don't even know what's going on with him half the time anyway," Bryant said. "It's like, 'oh, Javy's pinch-hitting. And then I was debating like, 'don't swing at the first pitch," but I was like, 'no, it's Javy.' 

"It was awesome. He just like goes up there and swings the bat. If he didn't have to run to first base, he wouldn't. It's just like, 'I'm so good, I'm just gonna get this hit and then we're gonna go home.'"

However awe-inspiring Baez's Kirk Gibson impression was, the only reason the Cubs were even in the spot to win the game at that moment was because of the hustle and aggressive baserunning from Bryant. 

His game-tying run on Almora's tapper in front of the plate was huge, but his first trip around the bases was even more impressive. 

With Bryant on second base and Rizzo on first in the first inning, both runners were off on the full-count pitch to Contreras, who hit a routine grounder to Phillies shortstop Jean Segura. As Segura made the throw to first to retire Contreras, Bryant never hesitated around third base and scored on some heads-up, aggressive baserunning that looked like a page right out of the El Mago Playbook.

Bryant said as he was running, he thought about what it's like to play the left side of the infield on such a routine play and felt like he could catch the Phillies by surprise.

"I saw [third base coach Brian Butterfield] holding me up, too, and I just kept going," Bryant said. "I almost felt like I had eyes in the back of my head. It was kind of like one of those experiences that it's hard to explain, but I just kept going."

That run was all Jose Quintana and the Cubs needed for six innings, until Carl Edwards Jr. came on in relief for the seventh. Edwards allowed a leadoff single and then a double two batters later, giving way to Brandon Kintzler with two outs.

Kintzler gave up a groundball single up the middle to Andrew McCutchen and just like that, the Cubs' thin 1-0 lead had evaporated in the blink of an eye. And with the offensive issues (they were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position before Baez's hit), that looked to be enough to send the Cubs to their second straight defeat in frustrating fashion.

But the magic of El Mago and Bryant allowed the Cubs to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and send fans home happy and with a little more belief that this just might be a special summer on Chicago's North Side.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream

Cubs Talk Podcast: Jake Arrieta discusses his return & Mark DeRosa talks the leadoff spot


Cubs Talk Podcast: Jake Arrieta discusses his return & Mark DeRosa talks the leadoff spot

Hear from Jake Arrieta after his first start as a visitor at Wrigley Field, including his thoughts on facing his former teammates and the standing ovation he received during his first at-bat (1:30). Then, Luke Stuckmeyer is joined by MLB Network's Mark DeRosa to discuss the Cubs' leadoff spot, the team outperforming expectations so far, and much more (8:15).

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast