Cubs

Unsung hero Jonathan Herrera impressing Maddon, Cubs

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Unsung hero Jonathan Herrera impressing Maddon, Cubs

If you asked Cubs fans who Jonathan Herrera was at the start of spring training, you'd get a lot of puzzled looks and shoulder shrugs.

Herrera was an unknown when he signed as a minor-league free agent with the Cubs last December, earning a nonroster invite to spring training. He hit .300 in Cactus League play and suddenly found himself on the Opening Day roster as the Cubs hosted the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

Three weeks later, Herrera is flying high after a few good games in a row, capped off with the game-winning hit in the 11th inning Friday against the Reds.

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Herrera entered Friday's game in the late innings, taking over at third base as Kris Bryant moved to left field. In his first at-bat in the 11th, Herrera lined a sharp single to right field to bring home Anthony Rizzo in an eventual 7-3 victory.

"You have to prepare yourself for the situation," Herrera said. "I'm here to face those situations and be ready for them.

"I try to do the little things every day, take my swings in the cage before and throughout the game, just in case I get an opportunity in the game and then try to do my best."

It's that mindset that has helped Herrera carve out a utilty role with the Cubs, where he now has four RBI in the last four games, including a two-run triple in Pittsburgh Thursday afternoon.

Herrera, 30, signed with the Colorado Rockies as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela in 2002 and appeared in 375 games for the Rockies from 2008-13, making appearances at second base, third base, shortstop and even left field.

After a minor role in Boston last season, Herrera inked a deal with the Cubs and impressed manager Joe Maddon right off the bat.

"During spring training, the thing I really appreciated about him, even when he wasn't playing or he was on the bench, he was always upbeat," Maddon said. "He didn't know his status, he didn't ask about his status. He just kept coming out and doing his job.

"I thought, 'This guy is a real professional.' He has totally exhibited that over the course of the two-three weeks of the season. An ability to play a variety of positions, he's gotten some big hits for us, works good at-bats.

"He's a pro, man. When he's one of the guys on that bench, you feel good about it. Because you know if you put him out there, he's going to be ready."

[MORE: Cubs: Bryant, Stanton and the popularity of power prospects]

Herrera credited Maddon's managing style for putting him in a position to succeed and making him comfortable, even when his name isn't on the lineup card to start a game.

With Addison Russell and Kris Bryant now up in the big leagues and starting every day at second base and third base, respectively, Herrera has been relegated to more of a bench role, but he's content with that, especially while the team is winning.

"I'm very happy to be a part of this really good group we have," Herrera said. "I prepare myself every day for an opportunity to come.

"We're playing really hard games every single day. We're fighting, we're playing 27 outs. Good things happen when you play like that."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 10th, 11th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 10th, 11th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa is heating up, but even a red-hot Sosa doesn't automatically equal wins for the Cubs.

Slammin' Sammy notched his first multi-homer game in 1998 in a 9-5 loss to Kevin Millwood and the Atlanta Braves. Sosa drove in 4 of the Cubs' 5 runs on a solo shot in the 4th inning and a three-run shot in the 8th. 

Sosa tallied 830 feet of homers in the game, with his first blast going 410 feet and the second shot measured at 420 feet.

The big game bumped Sosa's overall season slash line to .337/.411/.551 (.962 OPS) with 11 homers and 35 RBI.

Fun fact: Mickey Morandini hit second for the Cubs in this game and went 4-for-4, but somehow only scored one run despite hitting just in front of Sosa all game. That's because Morandini was caught stealing to end the 3rd inning, leaving Sosa to lead off the 4th inning with a solo blast.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: If Cubs somehow miss the playoffs will Joe Maddon's seat start heating up?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: If Cubs somehow miss the playoffs will Joe Maddon's seat start heating up?

David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Nick Friedell (ESPN.com) and Patrick Finley (Chicago Sun-Times) join David Kaplan on the panel.

The guys discuss Welington Castillo’s 80-game PED suspension, the Cubs struggles and if Joe Maddon could be on the hot seat if the Cubs somehow miss the playoffs in 2018.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: