By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — At a key moment Wednesday night, Cubs shortstop Addison Russell came out of nowhere.
With Chicago leading 5-2 in the top of the seventh inning and the bases loaded with two outs, Russell saved a pending disaster by covering nearly 40 yards to make an acrobatic, sliding catch down the left-field field that robbed Pittsburgh outfielder Gregory Polanco of a hit that would’ve plated at least two runs and probably three.
Russell’s spectacular play proved pivotal in an eventual 6-5 win for the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
“I was starting to lean the other way,” Russell confessed. “I just got a good read on the ball. I anticipated him hitting the ball up the middle. He hit it the other way. I thought there was no way I was going to be able to make that play. I hustled over there and got a glove on it. I just was able to make the play. It was awesome.”
Russell’s dive-and-slide catch was one of the best defensive plays of the season for a Cubs team that’s had many web gems by its infielders this season. The 22-year-old Russell was in the moment even while he was going down on the grass with two teammates closing in on him near the foul line.
“I didn’t want to drop that ball,” he said. “The ball was headed for my glove at that point. I was really happy to make that catch. It was like a one-legged jump slide. I had to track the ball into my glove, going over to that line, not knowing where the foul line or bullpen was. I just put my head down and last second kind of tracked it.”
Russell’s catch rivaled the crazy wall-walking snag by first baseman Anthony Rizzo about a month ago. Russell joked he needed to do something big for the left side of the infield.
“Absolutely!” Russell said. “Rizzo is a real athlete. He makes some tremendous catches over on his side. Now I am happy he can see what I can do over on my side.”
Right-hander Jason Hammel earned the win, thanks in part to Russell’s web gem and several outstanding defensive plays by third baseman Kris Bryant.
“This team is going to be really good for a long time,” Hammel said after winning his career-high 14th game. “These kids are impressive. They continue to dazzle. I can’t really say we are surprised. We have come to expect these great plays and all of the runs they are driving in. We are witnessing greatness with all of these great young kids right now.”
The Cubs have a season-high 15-game lead over the second-place Cardinals. Their magic number for winning the division is down to 16. Any combination of Cub wins and Cardinal losses adding up to that number clinches the division for Chicago.
At 85-47, Chicago is also 38 games over .500, the high-water mark in that department this year. The Cubs won 22 games in August, matching the franchise’s best mark of 22-6 by the 1932 National League champion Cubs team.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.