Cubs

In 'rollercoaster' Cubs year, Russell gets first win

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In 'rollercoaster' Cubs year, Russell gets first win

Friday, Sept. 3, 2010
Updated 6:45 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

James Russell made the team out of spring training as a 24-year-old rookie. Except for the 18-day stretch he spent at Triple-A Iowa in June, he has been there for almost all of the weirdness surrounding this Cubs season.

But it wasnt until the third day of September that he earned his first major-league victory. His father Jeff won 56 games, lost 73 and saved 186 for five different teams during his 14-year career. There was a text message waiting for the son on Friday afternoon, saying congratulations and call home.

Blake DeWitt secured the 7-6 victory over the New York Mets with a three-run homer he launched into Wrigley Fields right-field bleachers. Afterward the 6-foot-4-inch Russell, an easy-going type who once pitched at the University of Texas, had changed into shorts and a T-shirt and stood in front of his locker.

I guess I owe Blake a beer or two, he said.

Russell recently got a haircut, shaved his beard and joked that he looked like he was 14 years old. Outside of Starlin Castro, the Cubs can drink legally, but the average age of their roster is 28 years and 72 days, making them the eighth-youngest group in the majors.

Thats why its crucial that their next manager be able to guide players who are on a steep learning curve. A 58-77 team overall is now 7-3 since Mike Quade took over for Lou Piniella. Beyond wins and losses, Quade hopes there will be a full accounting of his 37 games in charge.

The guys are playing hard, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. Mikes done a real nice job of getting everybody involved and giving people chances and putting some people in spots that wed like them to be in, so we can see what we got by the end of the year.

Its hard to tell what the Cubs have in Randy Wells, who finished a strong rookie season at 12-10 with a 3.05 ERA last year. Just check out his splits from July (2-2, 1.83) and August (1-4, 5.91). He began September by giving in to a media label he hates.

You put yourself in the mindset coming into spring training that this sophomore jinx or whatever you guys call it isnt real, Wells said. You can work through it. But the truth of the matter (is) the biggest part of the sophomore jinx is mental. Its learning how to work through the bad things, working through the struggles.

Wells gave up three runs in the first before putting together four scoreless innings. Quade came out to the mound to visit him with two outs in the sixth and left him in the game, trying to buy time for his bullpen, and knowing that Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes were on the Mets bench.

Lucas Duda slapped an RBI double into the right-field corner for his first major-league hit to tie the game 4-4. Wells was charged with four runs on eight hits in 5 23 innings.

Its not a matter of ability. Its not a matter of stuff, Wells said. Its just a matter of knowing how to deal with this league. The reports get better. Guys have seen you.

You got to be on top of your game every time. Theres no, Ok, Im not sharp, but Im hoping guys hit balls right at people.

Wells isnt going through this alone, and he knows that he will be challenged for a job in 2011. Russell bailed him out by getting Beltran to fly out to end the sixth, minutes before DeWitt changed the game with one swing.

In front of 31,424 fans, Russell (1-1, 4.50) faced only one batter and threw seven pitches, but that was enough. Hes shown that he could be a useful bullpen piece in the future and was finally rewarded with a win. When youre young and play for the Cubs, theres no shortage of places to celebrate.

Its been quite a rollercoaster ride, but I wouldnt trade it for anything in the world, Russell said. Thats one thing I pride myself on not getting too up or too down. The minute you get really high in this game, you get a piece of humble pie. And next thing you know youre down in Triple-A.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

The biggest hit of your career and how you got there

The biggest hit of your career and how you got there

During the post-game interview of Game 3 of the NLCS in 2003, I was asked the question that is often asked when a player has a special moment on the big stage.

“Was this the biggest hit of your career?”

The 2019 Cubs are down to crunch time. Every pitch, every relay throw, every call to bullpen gets more consequential every day. The cliché of taking one game at a time carries more weight, even when you are peeking at what the other teams in the race are doing.

In 2003, we were watching the Astros and the Cardinals, like our brothers were playing on those teams. This season, it is the Cardinals and the Brewers.

Even though it is natural to look ahead or even over your shoulder, a player’s arrival to these moments is the sum of the moments from the past.

Nothing brought that into focus more than my journey to the 2003 postseason by way of the Texas Rangers.

When I was traded to the Cubs by the Rangers in 2003, it was at the end of July. Before that, I was playing in the American League for the first time, head buried in figuring out new stadiums and opponents in the AL West and light years away from knowing what was going on in the NL Central.

By the time I was traded, the Rangers were dead in the water, even with a lineup that was loaded with great bats. I spent a good chunk of the first half recovering from a torn hamstring, the first serious injury of my big league career. Wrigley might as well have been on Mars.

The cliché of taking one day at a time gets reinforced when you are working on an underwater treadmill hoping your hamstring will be the same as it was before the injury. One day at a time becomes one minute at a time, and life slows down. Even as you are counting down the minutes left on that treadmill, at 32 years old and fully dependent on a game based on speed, you are wondering if this countdown is actually a timer on your career.

I had already tried to choose a different path than the linear one I was offered during free agency the previous offseason. The straight-line choice would have kept me in Philadelphia. The safe choice where I had been for five years already. I lived there, I went to college there, my Mom lived less than two hours away. They even offered a better contract. But I left in the spirit of betting on myself because the Marlon Byrd Era had started in Philly, and the Doug Glanville Era was coming to a close, at least the one that made me a starting centerfielder.

I was determined to sign with a team that would see me as a starter even as I was approaching my 33rd birthday. That was what Texas represented. I could bounce back from a tough year and play for many more years. That was the plan. A torn hammy was not in the plan.

When I finally returned to the Rangers lineup, I was coming off my first minor league rehab assignment, battling Double-A and Triple-A pitchers with a limp. Within six weeks of finally getting healthy and back to my best baseball, I was traded to the Cubs.

When I arrived, the Cubs were a .500 team. No guarantee of postseason glory was offered. But we scrapped and battled to a division title and my first (and only) postseason appearance. My one at bat in the NLCS came after Dusty Baker asked me if I could play infield after we clinched the NL Central, correcting my negative answer to help me understand that being the emergency infielder was the only way I could make the playoff roster. Since I hadn’t played infield since I was 11, I wondered… How did I get here?

The big hit finally came on that big stage against the Marlins, in the form of a triple. It makes sense that it was the biggest hit in my career in terms of audience, but then I remembered all of the steps along the way.

I had to leave Philadelphia to arrive. I had to be far from the game during my rehab program to get close. I had to limp through hamstring exercises before I could run again. I had to learn to exist without my father who had passed away the last game of the previous season to be my own man. Just getting in the batter’s box seemed miraculous.

When I signed with Texas, there was no reason for me to think I would end up in Chicago in a batter’s box that I had stood in tens of times as a member of the Phillies. But here I stood.

Today, in my line of work as an baseball Insider, we are often required to make predictions, to weigh the information in front of us and make our best guess as to what will happen. A ballplayer knows the impossibility of such forecasting because of experiences like mine that tells us how little control we have in what comes next. We can do our best to be prepared and ready for opportunity.

A team is often the sum of these personal journeys. Nico Hoerner was drafted barely over a year ago, fresh off of a college experience, trying to adjust to life as a professional and then suddenly, he was in Wrigley Field, 22 years old and a key part of the Cubs chances. Javy Baez had to get hurt, Russell had to get hit in the head, the front office had to do their scouting. All of it mattered to the realm of Hoerner’s opportunity. And now, he could be a difference maker. Ask him if he expected that on draft day.

When Andrew Benintendi, the Red Sox first round pick in 2015, was called up in a similar fashion in 2016, I talked him before batting practice at Fenway Park. I asked him, “Did you think you would be here so quickly?”

He looked at me in the middle of a stretch and just shook his head with this look on his face that said “not a chance.” He was good enough talent-wise, but there is nothing like actually being in the reality of the dream. It still surprises, yet now he is a world champion.

The Cubs are here as the sum of all of their stories. Ben Zobrist had to return, Yu Darvish had to find his best game and get healthy, Nicholas Castellanos had to be the best version of his game, Jason Heyward had to struggle in the leadoff role to thrive lower in the lineup. It all mattered.

In this roller coaster season for the 2019 Cubs, we saw a team with high expectations. A talented team that had one goal. A world championship. By this standard, they declared that they had underachieved last year even after winning 95 games.

In a blink of an eye, a division that the Cubs were struggling to hold on to, looked lost as the Cardinals got hot in August. But all of a sudden it is in reach again. It was not the path planned, but it still has a path to where they want to go. Unscripted, improvisational, and in the final stretch.

And somewhere in these final two weeks, a Cubs player may be asked the same question.

“Was that the biggest hit of your career?”

And I would like to offer this answer.

Yes, because I am here now and that was never guaranteed.

Enjoy the ride and don’t forget to look out the window.

'Yogi' and his hat-balancing act steal the show at Monday's Cubs game

'Yogi' and his hat-balancing act steal the show at Monday's Cubs game

You never know what you are going to find on Authentic Fan Night, including die-hard baseball fans with impressive tricks up their sleeve! 

'Yogi' is the name of the one particular Cubs fan who stole the show on Monday night, and developed his signature tricks in 2005 in a circus show at Bloom High School called "Under the Big Tap".

In 2017 Yogi started doing the hat trick more often and perfected it through much trial and error. 

In our clips, you can hear the Cubs faithful cheer Yogi and our own Kelly Crull on, even she gets in on the fun, trying out Yogi's hat trick for herself!

Hopefully, Yogi's antics bring some good luck to the Cubs, who are in the midst of a fight for a playoff spot in the NL. You can stream Cubs baseball here