Cubs

Redemption? Jason Heyward comes through to lead Cubs to another walk-off win

Redemption? Jason Heyward comes through to lead Cubs to another walk-off win

No player on the Cubs roster has been scrutinized more than Jason Heyward.

Heyward signed the richest contract in Cubs history in the offseason and has struggled to find his groove at the plate, but still maintained Gold Glove level defense in right field all year.

That wasn't the case Sunday.

Heyward dropped Hunter Pence's flyball in the second inning, putting a runner at second base with nobody out. Pence came around to score the Giants' first run and what looked like the possible deciding tally in the game with Johnny Cueto locked in on the mound.

Except Heyward had other ideas.

The embattled outfielder lifted a two-out, two strike pitch over shortstop to drive home Anthony Rizzo in the fourth inning and knocked in Addison Russell with the game-tying run in the ninth on a single through the drawn in infield.

But Heyward still wasn't done.

In the 13th inning, he singled over shortstop again to bring home Rizzo again in a wild 3-2 walk-off victory in front of 41,293 fans at Wrigley Field Sunday.

"It's good to be a part of it," Heyward said. 

With Heyward's year-long struggles, Joe Maddon opted to sit the slumping outfielder for an entire three-game series in Colorado last month.

Since then, Heyward is hitting .308 with nine RBI in 52 at-bats across 13 games (11 starts). 

"I feel like it's still coming," Heyward said. "I feel like there are still flashes of it. But either way, it's just one day at a time, keep competing, keep trying to do something each game to help win. That's the bottom line."

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It's not like Heyward's three hits Sunday were struck all that well — a groundball through the drawn-in infield and two soft liners over the shortstop — but it also helps make up for some of the hard shots Heyward has hit right at people this season.

"Confidence starts showing up and then all of a sudden, you become more on time, the ball gets a little bit bigger," Maddon said.

Cubs starter John Lackey has called out his teammates for fielding miscues in the past, but had no such agenda for Heyward's dropped ball Sunday.

"You're never gonna get mad at him," Lackey said. "He's played Gold Glove defense all year. He's made a lot more plays than he's missed out there. I'll take that guy out there every day of the week for sure."

Heyward admitted he was thinking about the error for a little while afterwards.

"It took me a second to let it go," Heyward said. "... There's nothing you can do after that play. It happens. I know I don't make a lot of errors. 

"Just let it go and keep playing because you know you're playing a good team. Just gotta keep being a part of the game, keep doing what you can to help."

In a hard-fought series in which every game was decided by one run, the Cubs found a way to grind out three victories and finished the homestand with a 6-1 record.

The Cubs woke up Sunday morning with a 16.5-game lead in the National League Central, but despite being on the verge of clinching a playoff spot in early September, they continue to show their killer instinct, trying to win every single game.

"My takeaway is the fact that we have the lead that we do right now and we're playing to win...," Maddon said. "There's something to be said for that. Nobody's mailing anything in. Nobody's taking anything for granted. We're playing it one game at a time."

The Cubs bullpen was dominant all series, allowing only six baserunners in 16 shutout innings. It was the third game of the season in which Cubs relievers accounted for at least eight shutout innings.

In fact, the Cubs pitching staff as a whole limited the Giants to a .106 batting average (14-for-132) in the four games. The 14 hits were tied for the lowest the Cubs have surrendered in a four-game series in Wrigley history.

Five of the Cubs' last six wins have come by a one-run margin, including two in extra innings. They've also gone 9-0-1 in series at Wrigley Field since the All-Star break.

"Isn't it beautiful?" Maddon said. "That's what I've been talking about. We have a nice record, but we're coming to play every day.

"Everybody says, 'What are you going to do in September?' Nothing different. Just try to rest people when you can, but play the same game."

Home run ball continues to sting Cubs' starting pitching

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AP

Home run ball continues to sting Cubs' starting pitching

Cubs' starting pitchers have been on a roll recently, anchoring the team during its 30-day stretch without a day off. Over each of their last six starts (entering Wednesday), Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and José Quintana have been flat-out dominant.

Mike Montgomery has been stellar lately as well, allowing two runs or less in five of his last six starts. One common trend, though, is that Cubs' starting pitchers have been susceptible to the long ball as of late.

Hamels has allowed five home runs total in his last three starts, including two Wednesday night. The veteran left-hander surrendered a three-run blast in the first inning as well as a two-run shot in the sixth inning.

Lester has not allowed a home run since Aug. 27 against the Mets, but Hendricks has allowed one in two of his last three starts. Quintana allowed two solo homers in Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Reds, while Montgomery has given up one in each of his last two starts.

Home runs by the oppposition haven't hurt the Cubs much recently, as they are 18-11 in their last 29 games. The pitching staff has been excellent down the stretch, outside of Wednesday's 9-0 loss.

Even then, though, the offense scored zero runs on one hit, so the three home runs that the pitching staff allowed ultimately did not matter.

Come October, though, it could be something to look out for, when one swing of the bat could change a game or series instantly.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are the Cubs on their way to a World Series?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are the Cubs on their way to a World Series?

David Haugh, Justin Roman and Jason Goch join Mark Schanowski on the panel. The Cubs keep on rolling at the right time. Will their hot streak carry them to the World Series or will their banged-up bullpen be their downfall? The guys discuss when Mitch Trubisky will stop being a work in progress and Kendall Gill drops by to talk about Jimmy Butler’s trade demand.

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded link below!