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."

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.

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

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USA TODAY

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

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