Cubs

/ by Tony Andracki
Presented By Cubs Insiders
Cubs

When everybody looks back on the Cubs' 15-inning victory over the division-rival Brewers Saturday, they'll remember Willson Contreras' walk-off homer, Tyler Chatwood's gutsy performance in relief and the cold/rainy weather.

They might even remember Cole Hamels' dominant start or David Bote's "El Mago-esque" slide.

All those guys deserve the credit they'll get, but it was Cubs third-base coach Will Venable who will go down as an unsung hero of the 5-hour affair. 

In the bottom of the fifth inning with the Cubs trailing 1-0 in the game, Bote reached on an infield single with two outs. Albert Almora Jr. came up next and served a soft liner into the gap in right-center and Bote motored all the way around from first to score, even though Brewers right fielder Christian Yelich cut the ball off well before it reached the wall. 

The ball beat Bote home, but his incredible slide dodged the tag from Yasmani Grandal and the Cubs had their first run against the Brewers in the series. (It wound up being the only run until Contreras' walk-off blast in the bottom of the 15th inning.)

As Bote rounded third, past baserunning advice from Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce echoed through his head: "Don't just slide, slide to be safe." Bote said he was thinking to himself: "Find a way to get safe and that was just how my body decided to do it."

 

You don't often see a guy score from first base on a hit that doesn't even get by an outfielder, but this wasn't a conventional play and the Cubs don't even make it to extra innings without it.

With Hamels on deck and the Cubs offense struggling to score runs, Venable was sending Bote all the way to try to make something happened.

And it worked.

"He let me know early we were going," Bote said. "In my head, I'm like 'Score.' I go until he stops me. About halfway to third base, I see we're going, so it wasn't a hesitation — he was convicted about it. It was a great, great call. Obviously it ends up being a huge run for those last 10 innings."

Venable is normally the team's first-base coach, but has seen a lot of time over at third base the last couple weeks while veteran coach Brian Butterfield has battled illness. This is only the second season for the 36-year-old Venable on a coaching staff of any kind after playing in the big leagues from 2008-16. 

"Tremendous," Joe Maddon said. "He knew who was on deck, he knew the out situation, he knew everything about it. Bote had it in his head, also. Albert with a nice piece of hitting. That was absolutely the right thing to do and I know Butter was very proud of the whole moment."

The Cubs also seemed to catch the Brewers by surprise a bit on the whole play, as Yelich kind of nonchalantly got the ball back into the infield and it didn't look like second baseman Hernan Perez was initially planning on going home with the relay.

Part of that can be credited to Venable, who may have let Bote know to keep motoring home, but wasn't cluing the rest of Wrigley Field onto the decision. He motioned to Bote once and then kind of casually put his hands on his knees and watched as Bote flew past him. You typically see third-base coaches waving their arms around like crazy in situations like that to get the message across that they want the guy to score.

Venable was unavailable for comment after the game, but Maddon didn't think he was trying to purposely deke the Brewers at all.

"Probably not," Maddon said, smiling. "There might've been consternation, concern — 'what should I do here?' kind of a thing. If you've never coached third base and you do it here [in the big leagues] for the first time, that ain't easy. The guys that do it for a long period of time, I have so much respect for."

Maddon has coached third just one game in the majors while filling in and admitted "it's weird." But he has coached it a bunch in the minor leagues and knows how it can take some getting used to, so he empathizes with the difficult on-the-job training Venable has had to go through in a very short period of time.

 

Things are easier at Wrigley, however, as the Cubs dugout is very close to where Venable stands, so Maddon can often relay messages to his coach without even signing.

"I can just say it to him, which we've been doing, so that helps a little bit," Maddon said. "But he's done well. There was a sequence in Miami [last month] where I did a whole bunch of different things — he nailed every one of them and we came out pretty good. 

"He's a very sharp guy. This just adds to his resume. This makes him a better coach — the mind once stretched has a difficult time going back to its original form. All this matters for him. He's doing wonderfully."

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