By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The game was critical, the moment was important. With a two-run lead in the eighth inning against the rival Cardinals on Saturday, Cubs manager Maddon inserted shortstop Addison Russell as a pinch-hitter.
With Russell out since the first week of August with a sore right foot, it felt like a release from purgatory, and a standing ovation from the Wrigley Field crowd followed.
“That was a pretty special moment in my life,” Russell said. “Walking to the plate, I couldn’t help but have a smile on my face. It was really fun.”
The results were satisfying on numerous fronts. Russell delivered a solo home run into the left-field bleachers on a 1-2 pitcher from Cardinals reliever Tyler Lyons, helping seal Chicago’s 4-1 win.
“I have been working really hard to get back,” Russell said. “The moment happened. I just need to be game ready, both physically and mentally. If I am, I will be fine.”
With two fine shortstops to choose from in Russell and Javier Baez, Maddon has the luxury of easing Russell back into into a full-time workload. The Cubs will move Baez back to second base when Russell takes over short.
“Of course we were not expecting that,” Maddon said of the Russell homer. “I just wanted to get him an at-bat. It also reminded you that we have missed his presence also. The final point, look at the defense we had out there to end the game. Pretty nice also.”
Maddon’s preferred infield defense is Anthony Rizzo at first, Baez and second, Russell at shortstop and Kris Bryant at third. It was the backbone that helped author one of the greatest defensive seasons in baseball history in 2016.
For Russell, his focus is on proving he’s ready to reclaim his position on an everyday basis.
“Javier definitely plays a good shortstop,” Russell said. “He plays a great second base. It is definitely fun to watch him. I enjoy watching him play. I enjoy watching all of the guys play. From a shortstops perspective, I am happy to be back out there.”
And the Cubs are happy to have him out there. Russell was slotted in to start at shortstop and hit eighth against the Cardinals in Sunday’s series finale.
“That was awesome to see him,” Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks said. “Just watching him smile as he was rounding first base was great. It had been awhile, and I know how that feels. He brings more energy to us. It is awesome to have him back for sure.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.