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."

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

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USA Today

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

Joe Maddon’s time with the Cubs may be over, but the memories made in his five years on the North Side will live on in Chicago sports lore forever. No matter how frustratingly his tenure may have ended, the outpouring of support and appreciation from management, fans and players alike throughout the process of Maddon’s departure are evidence of that.

“I love him like a dad,” Anthony Rizzo said

“I personally never could have imagined having such a wonderful partner,” Theo Epstein later added, standing beside Maddon as they delivered joint reflections on the end of the era.

Maddon touched the lives of so many within the organization and without in his time with the Cubs, but not many more so than catcher Willson Contreras, who burst onto the scene as one of the best young sluggers in baseball under Maddon’s guidance. Maddon — a catcher himself in his short time as a player — never shied away from criticizing Contreras in times he thought it earned, but it’s clear that the two forged a real bond over the last four years. 

Sunday afternoon, artist Austin Ploch revealed that Contreras reached out to him shortly after the end of the 2019 season to commission this heart-warming piece, commemorating the mutual respect and adoration between mentor and pupil:

The painting is derived from a photo of the two that Contreras posted to his Instagram account after it was officially announced that Maddon would not return as the Cubs manager:

Ploch has commissioned work for Contreras before, but now Willson will have a tangible memento to remember his first manager (along with his 2016 World Series ring). We’re not crying, you’re crying.

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Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Astros bench coach Joe Espada has two days off before Houston hosts Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday, but it looks like some of that time will be spent in Chicago.

According to multiple reports, the Cubs will interview Espada a second time for their managerial opening. MLB Network's Jon Heyman reports that the interview is happening on Sunday.

Espada is one of the more sought after managerial candidates this offseason, as he's spent the last six seasons with two of baseball's leading franchises. The 44-year-old has been Astros bench coach since 2018, and prior to that, he spent four seasons with the Yankees — 2014 as a front office assistant, 2015-17 as third base coach.

David Ross was the presumed favorite for the Cubs' opening, when the process got underway. However, by landing a second interview, Espada has clearly given the team something to think about. In fact, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan reported on Thursday the Cubs came away "exceptionally impressed" from Espada's first interview on Monday. 

MLB prefers teams not to make managerial announcements during the World Series. So, it might be a few more weeks before the Cubs announce their decision, unless they do so on Sunday or Monday.

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