Cubs

Javier Baez breaks out water gun for Albert Almora Jr. after another comeback win for Cubs

Javier Baez breaks out water gun for Albert Almora Jr. after another comeback win for Cubs

Javier Baez ran out to the middle of Wrigley Field with a neon-colored Super Soaker, spraying Albert Almora Jr. and the camera capturing the celebration after Thursday's 5-4 walk-off win over the Philadelphia Phillies, the drops of water dotting the big video board.

If the Cubs felt a little delirious, well, this imperfect 13-inning game lasted four hours and 22 minutes and marked their 10th come-from-behind victory already this season. 

"I was looking to do something different," Baez said. "I had it ready since the ninth inning. It took a little bit, but I finally got to use it."

Baez brought a Party Room tradition out from the underground clubhouse and into the open, targeting Almora as a player of the game for his hustle double leading off the 13th and scoring when Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis threw away a potential inning-ending double-play ball. Ping-pong-style games and water guns are part of The Cubs Way.

"We got like four of 'em and we got some buckets to celebrate when we win," Baez said. "Sometimes we get the staff, so they know they're doing a great job."

This can’t be easy for the defending World Series champs, giving up 35 runs in the first inning so far this season, playing from behind so often and navigating 11 one-run games already. The Cubs are still a first-place team with a 16-12 record and all that muscle memory built up from six playoff rounds across the last two seasons.

"Maybe the baseball gods are on our side," Kris Bryant said. "We would prefer not to have to come back. But if we're going to be put in that situation, we have a good group of players that work counts when the game is on the line.

"Last year, we just went out and we hit it seemed like the whole year. We scored a ton of runs. Our pitchers shut everybody down, so the games weren't as stressful. But it's not going to be like that. That's kind of fairytale land."

The Cubs are going to have to tighten up their game on Friday against a New York Yankees lineup where Starlin Castro is hitting like a batting champion and Aaron Judge is looking like a home run king. That late-inning drama will be harder to manufacture against a deep, dynamic bullpen headlined by Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances.

Almora set the stage for another weekend on national TV after John Lackey had a five-inning start where his ERA crept up to 5.14. And Ben Zobrist got picked off second base in the ninth inning (Bryant lined a harmless single into left field moments later). And Willson Contreras grounded into a 6-9-3 double play against Philadelphia’s five-man infield to waste a bases-loaded opportunity, ending the 12th inning.

Even if the Cubs aren't clicking on all cylinders, backup catcher Miguel Montero lifted Joaquin Benoit's 96-mph fastball into the center-field basket for a game-tying homer in the eighth inning. The Cubs stayed in the picture with lefty Mike Montgomery working the 10th, 11th and 12th innings. The contributions are still coming from all over the roster.

Almora – who showed so much poise as a rookie last season – said he didn’t even notice that left fielder Ty Kelly was slow to grab the ball and gather himself because his instincts screamed double in the 13th inning.

"We never quit," Almora said. "It's on the World Series ring."

Kaplan: Why Harry Caray was simply the best

Kaplan: Why Harry Caray was simply the best

Growing up in the Chicago area, we have been fortunate to hear some of the greatest names in sports broadcasting. From Jack Brickhouse to Harry Caray to Pat Foley to Jim Durham to Pat Hughes to Wayne Larrivee, the list is long and illustrious of the best play-by-play men in Chicago sports history.

For me, growing up listening to and watching many of these men on an almost daily basis only served to stoke my interest in pursuing sports broadcasting as my chosen career. All of the greats were obviously well prepared and technically excellent calling their respective sports, but for me one man stood above the rest because of his irreverence and ability to entertain people in a variety of ways. I ran home from Middleton School in Skokie to watch the final innings of many afternoon Cubs games in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, and I loved Jack Brickhouse and the enthusiasm he brought to each and every broadcast.

However, Harry Caray was the one that captured my heart and pulled me toward this great field of radio and TV broadcasting. Harry was one of the best technical baseball announcers in the history of the sport, but many people who only became aware of him as the announcer for the Cubs on WGN-TV only got to experience him in the twilight of his career, when he was best known for singing the Seventh Inning Stretch and his mispronunciations of players' names.

In the main portion of his 50-plus-year career, Harry called some of the game's greatest moments and saw many of the all-time greats. As the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics and the White Sox, he became one of the best in the sport with his colorful calls and honesty about the team he was working for. Fans loved his willingness to tell the truth and to openly cheer for the team he was affiliated with. However, when he was hired as the voice of the Cubs on WGN-TV, he became larger than life. With the power of the superstation behind him, he reached another level. A whole new generation of young people became Cubs fans — even if the team wasn't very good — because of the man in the funny glasses who was wildly entertaining.

I fell in love with his style and his entertainment ability. He was must-watch TV even when the games weren't very good. Until the Cubs signed Jon Lester and he became a key member of a World Series champion, Harry Caray was the single best free-agent signing in the history of the Cubs. From 1982 to 1997, he was bigger than almost every player who wore Cubbie Blue. Former All-Star first baseman Mark Grace remembered with a wry smile a story from his days as a Cub that shows just how big Caray was in relation to even the biggest-name players.

"We were playing the Marlins in Miami, and I was signing autographs alongside Rick Sutcliffe and Ryne Sandberg," Grace said. "There were long lines for each of us, and then Harry poked his head out of the Cubs dugout. The fans spotted him and someone yelled: 'Hey everybody, there's Harry!'

"I'm not kidding, everybody ran over to him, and the three of us were left with no one to sign for. We looked at each other, and Sutcliffe says to us, 'Guys, now you know where we rank on the totem pole.'"

Harry Caray was a legend and for me. He was the most entertaining play-by-play man I ever listened to. I still find myself listening to old tapes of him, and I am still as entertained today as I was then. Harry was simply the best.

Jose Quintana saved the Cubs pitching staff...for now, at least

Jose Quintana saved the Cubs pitching staff...for now, at least

The Cubs showed up to the ballpark Sunday morning knowing they were going to have to get creative with their pitching staff.

Sure, they just had the All-Star Break, but they kicked the season's second half off by jamming the pedal to the metal with a hard-fought 5-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals in a four-day span. 

Despite another quality start out of Mike Montgomery and trading for Jesse Chavez, the Cubs simply had too many innings to cover in Saturday's doubleheader.

They entered Sunday with Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop and Justin Wilson all unavailable, closer Brandon Morrow on the disabled list and hoping they didn't have to use long man Luke Farrell out of the bullpen so he could start Monday night's game.

That left some combination of Chavez (who had already worked 2 innings in his Cubs debut Saturday), Randy Rosario, Brian Duensing and Carl Edwards Jr. as the guys available out of the bullpen.

And that's even with 3 different position players pitching during Friday's blowout loss to help save the bullpen.

"Sometimes, you just gotta regroup and you have to try to do it in other ways to make sure that these guys are gonna be well for the rest of the season," Maddon said.

Enter Jose Quintana.

Quintana wasn't masterful — he allowed 10 baserunners in 7 innings, though a pair of those were intentional walks — but he still managed to eat up a bunch of outs and pick up his 9th win of the season. The 121 pitches he threw tied a career high and was the first time he topped the century mark since May 19.

It allowed the Cubs to only have to rely on Chavez (who threw another perfect inning) and Rosario, leaving Edwards to get some rest and Farrell to be set for Monday's start.

The Cubs are currently in a tough stretch where they play 12 games in 11 days against playoff-hopeful teams (Cardinals, Diamondbacks). They don't have another off-day until next Monday and have only four off-days between now and Sept. 13 as they'll play 53 games in that 56-day stretch.

As creative as they had to get this weekend against St. Louis, the Cubs will still have plenty of hurdles to cross to ensure their pitching staff is healthy and fresh come October.