The Cubs entered Game 4 of the 2016 NLCS at Dodger Stadium having been shut out twice in a row, 1-0 by Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen in Game 2 and 6-0 by Rich Hill and three L.A. relievers in Game 3. The offense that had scored 808 runs during the regular season — the team’s most since 2008 — had gone silent. They’d had just six hits in the two games, only one for extra bases, and had struck out 20 times.
Trailing two games to one, the offensive slump continued through the first three innings of Game 4. Julio Urias didn’t allow a hit in those three innings, though he issued a couple of walks and struck out four.
So that’s now 21 straight scoreless innings for Cubs hitters, with just six hits and 24 strikeouts.
Ben Zobrist got things going in the fourth with a bunt single, perhaps the most important bunt in Cubs history. Javier Baez also singled and a Willson Contreras hit broke the scoreless drought and gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead. A groundout by Jason Heyward made it 2-0 and that brought up Addison Russell.
The home run made it 4-0 and put the exclamation point on the Cubs’ first scoring inning since Game 1. It seemed to energize the entire team. Anthony Rizzo homered later and a five-run sixth put the game away for a 10-2 win.
I have a personal story to add to this memory. I had run into Ryan Dempster earlier in this game walking down the concourse at Dodger Stadium. We had a brief chat and he went back to his seat. Just moments after Russell’s home run, I felt a slap on my back. It was Dempster, racing by as he yelled, “That’s what I’m talking about!” Scared the living daylights out of me, but he was just as excited as any Cubs fan watching that game.
I write this essay with some trepidation. Russell was a well-liked player in 2016 and had his best season in the major leagues, hitting 21 home runs and posting 3.7 bWAR. The issues that led the Cubs to part ways with Russell are well known and we do not have to rehash them here; it seems likely that his big-league career could be over. You can think whatever you wish about him as a human being.
But the fact remains: Russell hit a very important home run in one of the most important games in the history of the Chicago Cubs franchise. That, in my opinion, deserves to be recognized.