Cubs

Walk-off superheroes: Cubs put MLB on notice in thriller over Dodgers

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Walk-off superheroes: Cubs put MLB on notice in thriller over Dodgers

The Cubs are coming.

In fact, you could make the case they've already arrived.

The Cubs walked it off over the Los Angeles Dodgers in 10 innings Tuesday night in a 1-0 thriller in front of 36,799 fans at Wrigley Field.

This was the Cubs' ninth walk-off victory of the year, tops in Major League Baseball. They are now 8-3 in extra inning contests.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

"The thing we've been harping on since spring training was to play nine innings hard every night," manager Joe Maddon said. "You just have to keep coming after them. You can't quit. The word 'grinding' is used a lot in Major League Baseball, but we just had to convince our guys that that's the way to do this.

"It doesn't just happen. You have to take things. Nobody gives you anything here.

"I love the way our guys are going about their business."

Little-used outfielder Mike Baxter led off the 10th with a single and Matt Szczur - who homered off Clayton Kershaw Monday night - followed with an infield hit off the glove of Alberto Callaspo at third base. Pinch-hitter Dexter Fowler was swinging away - "We eschewed the bunt," Maddon said - and ended up walking to load the bases with nobody out.

Rookie Addison Russell then fought off pitch after pitch from Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen before bouncing a grounder to Adrian Gonzalez at first base, who threw home to get the force.

[MORE - Addison Russell gaining confidence as he gets back to playing his game]

Chris Denorfia - who entered the game in the eighth - was up next and delivered the game-winner: a fly ball to left center that brought home Szczur.

That makes four wins in a row for the Cubs, including back-to-back victories against a team that leads the National League West and started Kershaw and Zack Greinke in the first two games of the series.

"I think you're looking at a team coming together and it has been together," Denorfia said. "We're all pulling in the same direction. There's no individuals in this locker room. We all know what we're playing for and how to get there.

"I think you saw the last couple days just what we're capable of - pitching awesome, playing good defense and getting some timely hits."

The Cubs forced Greinke to throw 111 pitches through six innings, getting into the Dodgers bullpen somewhat early on a night when neither team was able to muster up any offense.

Jason Hammel was magnificent for the Cubs, throwing 7.2 innings, allowing only two hits and two walks. One of those hits was a pop fly off the bat of Yasiel Puig that Szczur and Baxter lost in the lights.

Hammel had struggled in his last two starts leading up to Tuesday, giving up four earned runs on 10 hits and five walks in nine innings earlier in the month. He said the key to Tuesday was fastball command, which makes him a "different pitcher."

[MORE: Maddon expects Cubs front office will deliver at trade deadline]

The Cubs are 39-30, sitting with the third-best record in the National League and in the second wild card spot if the season ended Tuesday night.

But it's still only June. More than half the season is left, as Hammel made sure to point out - "We've got three months to go."

That being said, there's plenty of reason for optimism on the North Side.

"We don't quit," Hammel said. "Twenty-five guys on this team that are gonna make some type of help to the game at some point. They're going to make some type of impression on the team, whether it's one at-bat, one swing, one throw.

"The guys are ready to play. It's all hands on deck right now. It's been like that for three months and it's not gonna change."

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

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Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.