Walking off an important part of Cubs' lesson in winning


Walking off an important part of Cubs' lesson in winning

If you were still awake after that nearly three-hour weather delay during Saturday night’s game, you saw a finish that’s becoming more and more frequent on the North Side.

The Cubs walked off for the seventh time this season Saturday night, with Starlin Castro again playing hero with a game-winning basehit to beat the Reds in the bottom of the ninth.

There were a pair of walk-off wins in April, four more in May. Saturday night marked June’s first, and it’s apparent this is becoming a habit for the young Cubs. Joe Maddon was brought in, tasked with, among other things, teaching this team of top prospects to win at the major league level. Walking off is a part of that, according to one Cubs veteran.

“I think it just builds confidence. I think that’s part of when you hear the term ‘learning how to win,’ that’s one of the aspects as a team, as a player, learning how to win those type of games,” Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan said before Sunday’s series finale with Cincinnati. “And once you do it, it’s like anything, ‘Oh, OK, that’s how we did it. Let’s do it again.’ And obviously you can’t come through all the time, but your confidence is a lot higher when you’ve already done it. You’re like, ‘We’ve already done that. We’ve been there, done that. We know how to do it, let’s stick with what we do.’”

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Saturday, it was the youngsters coming through in the clutch. Kris Bryant led off the bottom of the ninth with a double. Then after Miguel Montero was hit by a pitch, Castro delivered the game-winning single. Cubs win.

But it’s about more than just having the talent to do it. It’s about having guys that want to do it and guys that can inspire the rest of their teammates to grab a dramatic “W.”

“When you get in that situation in the ninth inning, you’re like, ‘We can walk it off right here,’” Coghlan said. “Then when KB hits the double, or whoever hits the double or gets a hit, it mounts more and more. The pitcher feels more and more pressure because he knows he’s in a tougher spot than if there’s nobody on. And we feel more confident in that situation because we have a guy in scoring position already. And the way that things roll, our lineup’s so deep that anybody has a chance to win the game.

“I think we have a lot of guys like that. That’s what makes it fun, and that’s why we have so many walk-off hits is because we’re in that situation. We can’t get to that situation without defense, without pitching, but offensively, being able to come through, why there’s been different guys to get game-winning hits, it’s because that’s the type of team we are offensively. That’s a good talent to have.”

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Castro is the first Cub with a pair of walk-off hits this season. He previously came through with one to beat the Padres back on April 18. For all the guff the shortstop gets from fans, he’s made two of the most clutch plays of the season thus far, and he’s earning a reputation in the clubhouse as someone who can deliver.

“I think he is,” Coghlan said. “I think Star, he’s such a good offensive player. He takes a lot of heat, too, here, but I think that a lot of times people forget how good offensively he is, how young he is, too. It seems like in those situations this year — I’ve only been here two years, but it seems like he comes up a lot of times with an opportunity to win a game. I think he relishes that opportunity, knowing his personality. That what makes him able to come through in those situations.”

“Castro is just a good hitter. He’s a really good hitter. I’ve faced him a lot in my career, and this guy’s a really good hitter,” Montero said. “It’s good to be a part of this team and play with young, talented guys. The ceiling’s still pretty high for them. They’re still growing, and they’re still getting better. And they’re going to be even better every day. Every day they’re just going to get better.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Starlin Castro jersey right here]

Don’t expect the Cubs’ ninth-inning dramatics to go away any time soon. Winning ballgames late is becoming a trend, and figuring out how to come through in the clutch is an extremely valuable lesson for a young team looking to do enough damage to get into the playoffs. And the playoffs: There’s a time of year where being clutch really matters.

“We play hard, we go about our business,” Montero said. “And when you get a few wins here and there like that, it kind of motivates you and kind of increases your confidence level knowing that you can do it again.”

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

USA Today

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

Joe Maddon’s time with the Cubs may be over, but the memories made in his five years on the North Side will live on in Chicago sports lore forever. No matter how frustratingly his tenure may have ended, the outpouring of support and appreciation from management, fans and players alike throughout the process of Maddon’s departure are evidence of that.

“I love him like a dad,” Anthony Rizzo said

“I personally never could have imagined having such a wonderful partner,” Theo Epstein later added, standing beside Maddon as they delivered joint reflections on the end of the era.

Maddon touched the lives of so many within the organization and without in his time with the Cubs, but not many more so than catcher Willson Contreras, who burst onto the scene as one of the best young sluggers in baseball under Maddon’s guidance. Maddon — a catcher himself in his short time as a player — never shied away from criticizing Contreras in times he thought it earned, but it’s clear that the two forged a real bond over the last four years. 

Sunday afternoon, artist Austin Ploch revealed that Contreras reached out to him shortly after the end of the 2019 season to commission this heart-warming piece, commemorating the mutual respect and adoration between mentor and pupil:

The painting is derived from a photo of the two that Contreras posted to his Instagram account after it was officially announced that Maddon would not return as the Cubs manager:

Ploch has commissioned work for Contreras before, but now Willson will have a tangible memento to remember his first manager (along with his 2016 World Series ring). We’re not crying, you’re crying.

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Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Astros bench coach Joe Espada has two days off before Houston hosts Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday, but it looks like some of that time will be spent in Chicago.

According to multiple reports, the Cubs will interview Espada a second time for their managerial opening. MLB Network's Jon Heyman reports that the interview is happening on Sunday.

Espada is one of the more sought after managerial candidates this offseason, as he's spent the last six seasons with two of baseball's leading franchises. The 44-year-old has been Astros bench coach since 2018, and prior to that, he spent four seasons with the Yankees — 2014 as a front office assistant, 2015-17 as third base coach.

David Ross was the presumed favorite for the Cubs' opening, when the process got underway. However, by landing a second interview, Espada has clearly given the team something to think about. In fact, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan reported on Thursday the Cubs came away "exceptionally impressed" from Espada's first interview on Monday. 

MLB prefers teams not to make managerial announcements during the World Series. So, it might be a few more weeks before the Cubs announce their decision, unless they do so on Sunday or Monday.

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