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."

How Cubs affiliates are tackling financial challenges of coronavirus pandemic

How Cubs affiliates are tackling financial challenges of coronavirus pandemic

The Myrtle Beach Pelicans were scheduled to host a happy hour on Thursday. But Tropical Storm Bertha, which hit the South Carolina coast Wednesday morning, had different plans. General manager Ryan Moore rearranged his schedule, pushing back an interview 15 minutes, to address the fallout.

“So 2020,” he posted to Twitter.

The Cubs Class A Advanced affiliate postponed happy hour until next week.

With the Minor League Baseball season suspended indefinitely, and an increasing number of states reopening their economies, the Cubs affiliates are relying on other activities to help weather the blow of the coronavirus pandemic. The MiLB season hasn’t been officially cancelled, but it’s expected to be.

Officials from all four of the Cubs full-season affiliates wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a minor league season, but all four acknowledged that their optimism was fading.

“Personally, I don’t think we’ll have a minor league season,” said Chris Allen, president of the Double-A Tennessee Smokies. “I hope we do; I hope I’m wrong. It just seems like there are too many moving parts to put this together. I see what they’re trying to do at the Major League level, and it seems like it’s just too much to pull off with every state and municipality having different rules and regulations.”

The Oakland A’s actions this week supported Allen’s suspicions.

MLB announced in March a league-wide commitment to providing minor league players with $400 weekly stipends and medical benefits through the end of May. The White Sox and Rangers have promised to extend that support through the month of June. As of Wednesday evening, the Cubs had not announced their plan. But on Tuesday, the A’s reportedly informed their minor league players that their stipends wouldn’t continue past May 31.

“When you're reading articles like that,” said Joe Hart, president of the Class-A South Bend Cubs, “I think that just kind of further lessens my optimism about having a season because you're not going to stop paying guys if you're going to actually have a season.”

MLB’s official decision on the fate of the minor league season has taken a back seat to negotiations with the MLBPA. Until the league delivers its final word, the Cubs affiliates are scheduling what events they can.

“The timing of this couldn't be any worse for Minor League Baseball,” Moore said. “We've incurred the majority of our expenses already, ramping up for the start of the season, and have zero revenue.”

Players and coaches are on the parent clubs’ payrolls, but the affiliates are responsible for most of the other costs associated with running a baseball team. Unlike MLB, which has lucrative TV deals, the minor leagues’ business plans rely on fans in the stands.

“I don’t have any revenue if I can’t sell tickets, and I can’t sell Cokes and beers and hot dogs and souvenir hats,” said Sam Bernabe, president of the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. “That’s how I make my money. I don’t have any other revenue sources.”

Even sponsorship money disappears when there’s no one to see the advertisements in the ballpark.

“Given the opportunity to play games without fans, we would actually lose more money,” Hart said, “because now you're turning on lights, you’re trying to maintain the field on a daily basis to play at that level.”

Minor League teams are already practiced in fan and community engagement – that’s often a key piece to drawing crowds – but they’ve had to get even more creative since the season suspension.

The I-Cubs, Smokies and Pelicans all plan to host high school baseball events this summer. The South Bend Cubs are scheduled to host travel ball tournaments in June. All four are poised to welcome fans into their ballparks for those games, with health-and-safety restrictions like social distancing in place.

The teams are considering non-baseball events as well, like company picnics, outdoor religious services, food and beer festivals.

The Pelicans also obtained a Paycheck Protection Program loan, according to Moore, but he describes it as a “Band-Aid.”

“Where we need a tourniquet,” he said.

That is the case for many of the minor league teams’ workarounds this summer. Bernabe estimated that the Iowa Cubs would still need a least the next two years’ revenue to cover the losses from this season. If the U.S. is hit with a second COIVD-19 peak, it will take longer to recover.

Even layers of Band-Aids can’t do the job.

Jason Kipnis: Playing for Cubs is a 'mindf*** at times' after Indians tenure

Jason Kipnis: Playing for Cubs is a 'mindf*** at times' after Indians tenure

Jason Kipnis joined the Cubs last winter after nine seasons with the Cleveland Indians, and sometimes, he finds himself feeling a strange way.

In 2016, Kipnis and Cleveland lost the World Series to the Cubs in seven games. A fan pointed out on Twitter how surprising it is to see Kipnis in Cubbie Blue a few years later, and the 33-year-old's reaction was nothing short of genuine.

RELATED: Jason Kipnis airs concerns over challenges players will face when MLB returns

Kipnis is a native of Northbrook and grew up a Cubs fan, and as he points out in his tweet, it's a lot of players' dreams as kids to play for their hometown teams. Still, the sting of losing the Fall Classic three years ago hasn't gone away. And, heck, it may never go away. It's not easy to get to the World Series, let alone win it. 

Can't blame the man for that. Make no mistake, though, Cubs fans. Kipnis is ready to help his new team win.

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