CHICAGO – It wasn’t all that many weeks ago that the Cubs were reporting wind chill factors at Wrigley Field.
On Friday, the blast furnace came on, and with it, the Cubs’ bats heated up in a 10-6 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
“That’s as hot as I’ve been here,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, whose team improved to 45-35. “That was like the instructional league in Arizona. That was unbelievable.”
Instead of a wind chill, the temperature of 96 made it the hottest game since it hit 97 on July 20, 2011. The Cubs also reported a heat index of 106 on Friday.
The ball usually flies on days like that, and the Cubs took advantage. Addison Russell hit a grand slam in the fifth inning to rally the Cubs from a 5-2 deficit. Joining Russell in the home run derby were Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber, who blasted one well over the center field wall in the seventh.
“I’m happy now that it’s summertime in Chicago because balls are flying,” said Russell, who got under a pitch from Twins starter Jose Berrios and watched it carry. “I was happy to see it go out.”
Russell’s name wasn’t mentioned a whole lot during the first two and a half months of the season, but now he’s starting to surge. The grand slam gave him two homers and eight RBIs in his past two games. He now has five homers for the season to go along with a line of .282/.354/.407.
“I’ve just been really trying to work on my approach with [hitting coach Chili Davis] and myself, as well as my discipline at the plate,” he said. “It looks like it’s getting better. But [I’m] just trying to develop my approach.”
It’s never easy to pitch on a day like Friday, but starter Mike Montgomery (3-2) managed to survive five innings, as he gave up seven hits and five runs (three earned). Montgomery allowed a three-run homer to Joe Mauer in the second and a two-run double to Mauer in the fourth.
“Going in, I knew the conditions were going to be tough,” he said. “It was hot, but [the approach] was just to keep it close. [My teammates] are unbelievable. I knew if I could keep it close that we were going to make it happen. Those guys really picked me up today. It wasn’t the easiest day to pitch, but for me, it was keep it close, give our team a chance. It worked out.”
Montgomery was fortunate to get the win because Maddon nearly batted for him in the fourth. No. 8 batter Chris Gimenez grounded into a double play, and Maddon allowed Montgomery to bat instead of using pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella. Maddon provided insight into his thinking, especially with a taxed bullpen.
“I think the part of our game that people don’t talk about enough is the interconnectedness of one day to the next,” Maddon said. “To really understand how you do this and how you work the bullpen and how you’ve got to give guys rest, just don’t think about the game on June 29. It was connected to the game on the 28th and the 30th and so forth.
“You’ve got to think about all that stuff in the moment tonight, and that’s why I chose to not hit Tommy with just one RBI potential with two outs, and I thought it was important that Montgomery got one more.”