Late-inning magic propels Cubs again

CINCINNATI -- The mini dance party the Chicago Cubs entertain themselves with in the clubhouse after wins must be something special considering that five of their nine victories this season have come in their last at-bat, including Friday’s 7-3 come-from-behind affair over the Cincinnati Reds.

“Celebrate each one of them like it’s our last,” the usually stoic Jon Lester said afterwards. “It’s loose. Especially for guys that haven’t won a lot, it’s good. It makes you forget about the grind.”

It can’t feel like much of a grind right now. Seemingly every game is full of drama. Either they’re playing one-run affairs -- 8 of the last 11 games coming into Friday were decided by a single run -- or they’re going to extra innings and surviving. Friday’s theme was the role player. Yes, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant continue to get on-base but spring invitee Jonathan Herrera was the hero with a go-ahead RBI double in the 11th inning -- along with a much-maligned bullpen.

“That’s what every good team needs,” Rizzo said of those role players.

With so many elite prospects in camp this spring, Herrera’s chances of making the team seemed slim. Being an integral part of it seemed even more unlikely. But here the journeyman is, getting some starts and appearing in 13 of the team’s 16 games.

“The thing I really appreciated about him in spring training, even when he wasn’t playing or was on the bench or just talking to him, he was always upbeat,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He didn’t know his status, he didn’t ask about his status, he just kept coming out and doing his job. I thought this guy is a real professional. He’s totally exhibited that over the course of the 2-3 weeks here.”

Herrera took some swings in the indoor cage to be ready for his moment, a moment in which Herrera battled Reds pitcher Burke Badenhop for eight pitches with the lead run on second base in the top of the 11th inning on Friday. Finally, he got a changeup he could pull.

“I’m here for those situations,” Herrera said. “I’m ready every day to do my little things.”

When David Ross followed with a 2-run double, the Cubs completed another improbable victory. Maddon had used up his bench once again while one of his best relievers -- Pedro Strop -- was unavailable due to a foot issue. (He says he’ll be better by Saturday). Maddon even let Lester, who is 0 for 42 in his career, bat in the seventh inning in a 3-3 game and then pulled him, trying to save his bench. He still used up everyone.

In the end, he loved the idea of an extra-inning, road victory that saw everyone contribute once again.

“That’s always been my measuring stick of a good team and we showed that tonight,” Maddon said of the win.

Rizzo added: “It’s our M.O right now. We keep fighting.”

And more times than not, they keep winning. And dancing.

Addison Russell: The recent call-up struck out four times but made the play of the game in nailing speedy Billy Hamilton at first base in the fifth inning.

“I knew off the bat I had a chance to get that ball,” Russell said. “I also knew who was running so I had to spit it out pretty quick.”

As for the strikeouts, Russell has 10 in four games. He was fooled by the movement on Reds starter Mike Leake’s 2-seam fastball.

“That’s something I haven’t seen much of,” Russell said. “I’ll learn from it.”