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.’”
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.”