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Call him Mr. Walk-Off: Starlin Castro does it again for Cubs

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Call him Mr. Walk-Off: Starlin Castro does it again for Cubs

Starlin Castro is earning himself a new nickname: Mr. Walk-Off.

The shortstop played game-winning hero for the second night in a row Sunday, capping the Cubs’ 2-1 victory with a basehit into the left-center field gap to plate Chris Coghlan in the 11th inning of yet another walk-off win at Wrigley Field.

Before the game, teammates talked about how clutch Castro is. Sunday night, he showed it again. He picked up his third walk-off hit of the season. The Cubs have won a majors-leading eight games via the walk-off hit.

Celebrations are becoming commonplace on the Wrigley infield.

“I love the way our team battled, and it’s just getting to be our signature, just never giving up, never quitting and battling right to the end,” Cubs catcher David Ross said. “And it’s easy to sleep at night when you do that.”

[MORE CUBS: Walking off an important part of Cubs' lesson in winning]

It’ll be sweet dreams for Castro, who came up with one clutch hit after another during this series with the visiting Reds. Friday night, he smacked a two-run, game-tying homer in the sixth inning of what ended up being an extra-inning loss. Saturday and Sunday, he broke late-night stalemates with game-finishing hits.

It’s a series of redemptive knocks for a player who’s often been the target of fan frustration. This weekend, those boos were replaced by cheers heard through the hand claps of “Go Cubs Go.”

“Because he’s been around a little while, people may pick on him a little bit more because they kind of expect more out of him. He’s still learning,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I talk to him a lot. His entire game, he’s learning and he’s listening. It’s not like he thinks he knows it all. Believe me, he does not even come across that way one bit. He knows he’s got a lot to learn. He listens, he asks good questions. His work is spectacular. So understand he’ll just keep getting better. He’s an easy target, he’s got a big target on his back. But he handles it great.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Starlin Castro jersey right here]

Castro went 3-for-5 on Sunday night, and his game-clinching RBI was his fifth in the last three games.

But aside from just his heroics with the bat, he helped save a run with his arm, completing a terrific relay throw to Ross, who applied a tag to nab Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips at home plate in the top of the sixth.

Castro was part of a cavalcade of Cubs who made the biggest of differences on Sunday night. The North Siders couldn’t have won without seven strong innings from Jon Lester, terrific defense in the outfield, a scoreless performance by a quintet of relief pitchers or a manufactured run courtesy of a Dexter Fowler sacrifice fly.

But Castro delivered the game’s biggest hit, and so he gets to be at the bottom of another infield pile.

Sunday was his third time in 2015, and according to his teammates, it’s unlikely to have been his last.

“Starlin, we’ve got a lot of confidence in him when he’s at the plate,” Ross said. “He puts the bat on the ball, he comes through in the clutch, he can hit the ball to all fields. I’ve seen that too many times being the catcher on the other side. I think we have a lot of confidence in Starlin when he’s at the plate.”

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.

The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.

The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.

Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:

  • The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
  • One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
  • Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
  • The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
  • The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
  • The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa victimized the Tigers pitching staff again on the next night, taking Brian Moehler deep in the 7th inning for a 400-foot solo blast.

The homer tied the game at 3, but the Cubs blew the lead in the bottom of the 7th when the Terrys (Adams and Mulholland) gave up 3 runs. The Cubs wound up losing 6-4.

The Cubs were putting together a really nice season in 1998 that ended with a trip to October. They entered the series with the Tigers with a 42-34 record, yet lost both games to a Detroit team that entered the series with a 28-45 record. The Tigers finished the season 65-94; the Cubs finished 90-73.

Fun fact: Luis Gonzalez was the Tigers left fielder and No. 5 hitter for both games of the series. He spent part of the 1995 season and all of '96 on Chicago's North Side. 1998 was his only year in Detroit before he moved on to Arizona, where he hit 57 homers in 2001 and helped the Diamondbacks to a World Series championship with that famous broken-bat single in Game 7.

Fun fact  No. 2: Remember Pedro Valdes? He only had a cup of coffee with the Cubs (9 games in 1996 and 14 in '98), but started in left field on June 25, 1998. He walked and went 0-for-1 before being removed from the game for a pinch-hitter (Jose Hernandez).