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Cubs grind until late home run by Addison Russell sets party in motion

CHICAGO -- When you build a brand-new party room to celebrate victories, why not go ahead and use it the first chance you get?

For nearly seven innings on Monday the Chicago Cubs were thinking about anything but dancing after the game, as Cincinnati Reds starter Brandon Finnegan held them hitless most of the night. But that doesn’t mean he held them off the base paths. Finnegan walked five to add to the Cubs league-leading total -- which eventually led to his dismissal from the game.

“I like to use the word 'relentless' with our offensive group,” manager Joe Maddon said after the come-from-behind, 5-3 win. “I saw his [Finnegan] pitch numbers were high. If you do the math, I thought it would be hard for him to throw a complete game. The point was to get to the next guy.”

The Cubs eventually got to the “next guy” when Addison Russell belted a three-run home run off of reliever Jumbo Diaz in the bottom of the eighth inning. It erased a 3-2 deficit and sent Wrigley Field into a frenzy.

“Once I hit the ball I kind of knew it was gone,” Russell said. “I normally don’t pimp home runs, but opening night, we’re down, the occasion called for it.”

Russell didn’t actually do much pimping; he’s not that kind of a player. What he has been doing is hitting home runs, at least in spring training, where he led the Cubs with five. But now he’s adding a new element to his game that has become part of the Cubs' DNA on offense. Russell walked for the fourth time in seven games on Monday, not long before hitting his first home run of the season.

“If you take your walks it’s going to help you out in the long run,” Russell said. “You’re going to see more pitches.”

That’s not a statement he would have made last season, when he walked 8 percent of the time. This year his walk percentage is over 15 percent. Those numbers translate to the whole team, which has taken 38 walks in seven games.

“I was trying to soak it in,” Russell said. “My heart was beating a lot ... The fans have a lot of faith in us. And we have a lot of faith in each other.”

Anthony Rizzo added: “We didn’t get many hits tonight, but we worked at-bats, we grinded. Ooh, what a moment for him [Russell]. The dugout erupted. The whole stadium erupted.”

And this is just Game 1 of 81 in renovated Wrigley Field. The outside looks the same, but down underneath the formerly cramped quarters, players are living in a whole new world. It includes every modern amenity, including a party room where a disco ball, fog machine and who knows what else has been added for post-win celebrations. Some might think they act pretty hokey after wins, but Maddon is adamant about enjoying them -- just not necessarily with the players.

“I try to stay out of that,” Maddon said, shaking his head with a smile. “It [party room] was heating up as I walked by, which is a good thing.”

The Cubs are getting used to these celebrations. They began early last season, grew in numbers in the second half and then exploded when they made the playoffs. Now they have a new room and a new season and new things to celebrate. An eighth-inning blast by one of their sophomore stars set everything in motion.

“I wanted to go up there and see something straight and make hard contact,” Russell said.

Then he smiled, remembering what took place just a few minutes before he talked with reporters.

“The party room is good and in effect,” Russell said.