Cubs

What makes David Bote so good in the clutch?

What makes David Bote so good in the clutch?

Wherever David Bote's career takes him, he'll always carry the label as a "clutch player." 

When you become the only person in baseball history to hit a walk-off grand slam with two outs, two strikes and your team down 3 runs, that kind of reputation will absolutely follow you around.

But how about the fact Bote is already second among Cubs players with 4 walk-off RBI despite playing just 46 home games in his career? (Anthony Rizzo is first with 7 walk-off RBI in his career.)

That's more than Ben Zobrist and Daniel Descalso, who have each notched more than 10 years and 1,000 games in the big leagues.

Even beyond walk-offs, Bote also has a game-tying 2-run shot in the bottom of the ninth inning on his resume from a July 26 game against the Diamondbacks last season. 

In total, Bote is hitting .370/.433/.815 (1.248 OPS) with 3 of his 7 career homers in the ninth inning or later. 

Here's where he ranks in leverage situations over his 93 big-league games:

High leverage — .280/.302/.660 (.962 OPS), 4 HR
Medium/low leverage — .242/.340/.348 (.688 OPS), 3 HR

Those are all just fancy numbers, but what's it all mean? When the lights are the brightest, Bote is at his best. 

"You can't teach that," Anthony Rizzo said. "He's had a lot of situations like that and he's come through. It's fun to watch."

So how does Bote do it? What makes him so clutch?

He has a specific approach and he practices those types of situations — and not just in the way where kids go out in their backyards and pretend they're up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning.

"It's the mental side of calming yourself, making sure you look for what you want to do — even throughout the whole game," Bote said. "In the offseason and the cage, my last swing of the day is always the game-winning type — OK, it's bases loaded, two outs, we're down 1, I need a base hit. Or we're down 3 or whatever the situation is, I play it out and I just have that practice."

The mental aspect of the game is a huge reason why Bote became such a big story last year, persevering through a long journey in the minor leagues. 

But it's also about opportunity and there's certainly a sense of luck involved.

Sunday, for example, Javy Baez led off the bottom of the ninth inning by motoring into third base, which put Willson Contreras up for a possible walk-off situation. But Arizona's Archie Bradley hit the Cubs catcher with a pitch, bringing Bote up with a chance to end the game. 

"Definitely opportunistic," Bote admitted. "You only have a chance to do it if you're in a position to do it. ... It's a team effort — those guys set the table and I just happened to be the one on Sunday that came through. 

"[Albert] Almora is another guy who gets that opportunity a lot. I think that's the team mindset we have — getting to the next guy. If I didn't do it, I know [Ben Zobrist] would've done it. I think that's the mindset of it all and you hope the first guy that gets a crack at it gets it done."

Bote's clutch hit Sunday allowed the Cubs to avoid extra innings and gave him the opportunity to make his flight back home to Colorado for the birth of his third child, Sullivan. 

Bote was on paternity leave from the team Monday and Tuesday and had some time to reflect on what's already been an emotional week. 

Sunday also marked the one-year anniversary of his MLB debut.

"It was a year ago and it felt like forever ago, just with all that's happened," Bote said. "And I think it's a good thing. Just enjoying every day — the longer it seems, the better. I'm more focused on just worrying about today."

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Cubs split Crosstown and Adbert Alzolay is called up

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Cubs split Crosstown and Adbert Alzolay is called up

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki check in from Wrigley Field after the Cubs split the first leg of the Crosstown Classic with the White Sox.

Kelly and Tony discuss the breaking news of top pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay's promotion to the big leagues and what his role could be with the Cubs (2:15), and assess where the Cubs stand as they continue their long homestand, including the recent offensive downturn and Yu Darvish taking a step forward (7:30).

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Joe Maddon perplexed by the way baseballs are jumping this year: 'It's extraterrestrial'

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon perplexed by the way baseballs are jumping this year: 'It's extraterrestrial'

On a mid-June night that felt more like the first week of April, the Cubs and White Sox combined for 2,029 feet of homers. 

As Leury Garcia hit Jon Lester's first pitch of the game 429 feet Wednesday evening, the reported temperature was in the mid 50s with winds blowing in from left field at 7 mph. That's not as chilly or windy as some of the games the Cubs have played this season, but it's still certainly not ideal hitting conditions at Wrigley Field.

Yet five home runs peppered the left and center field bleachers in the Cubs' 7-3 victory and prompted veteran manager Joe Maddon to bemuse about the way the ball is jumping around baseball today.

"Difficult conditions, but again — wind blowing in at a gale, it seemed, balls flying out easily," Maddon said after the game. "The home run that [James] McCann hit, my god, that just took off. You could actually see it from the field. You watch the flags [blowing in], it gets there, then all of a sudden it took off like a UFO. It stood still, then it took off. The first home run of the game, the first pitch, I mean my god, that ball went far. 

"I don't know what I'm witnessing. The way the ball is coming off the bat right now, it's extraterrestrial. It's like an ET kind of a thing going on out there. It's crazy. This is my fifth year here and I know what I've seen. Whenever the wind is blowing in like that, you don't see that. You don't see that."

Lester worked around those two homers from Garcia and McCann to pick up his 6th win, thanks in large part to the power supplied from his own teammates. Catcher Willson Contreras mashed his 14th and 15th homers of the season (after hitting only 10 all of last year) and David Bote smashed his 9th. 

Overall this season, the Cubs have been on an insane home run barrage, on pace to blow past the franchise mark for longballs in a year. Contreras reaching the 15-homer plateau puts five Cubs in that club this season. No other MLB team has more than three players who have reached that mark.

"I just know the ball's leaving," Maddon said. "I don't know if it's another year of maturity, but it's not just us. It's industry-wide. So it's hard to just say that we're the outlier with all this going on. I still want to see the better approach with runners in scoring position." 

Six weeks ago, Lester brought up the juiced baseball discussion after a start against the Marlins, saying he and other pitchers would like to know if MLB is juicing the baseballs. The league hasn't openly stated anything is different with the baseballs, though home runs are up at an astronomical rate across the board — in both the majors and Triple-A. And we haven't even gotten into the summer weather yet, when the ball really starts flying on warm evenings.

When asked for his thoughts on the baseballs Wednesday night, Lester shrugged it off.

"No comment," he said. "We can sit here and talk until we're blue in the face about the ball. It is what it is. Every pitcher in the big leagues has to pitch with it. You can comment on it all you want, but it just sounds like an excuse. I don't make excuses. Gotta make better pitches."