Better late than never, Cubs' offense busts out again

CHICAGO -- For five innings the Chicago Cubs were on track to be an integral part of some history, and not in a good way. Then, as has happened so often this season, the offense exploded just in time.

Unsung Chicago White Sox starter Anthony Ranaudo, a breaking ball pitcher who entered the game with 28 career strikeouts to his credit, along with 32 career walks, baffled the Cubs through five no-hit frames, with no ball was particularly well struck. But young as they are, the Cubs don't panic about such things and outlasted the White Sox in what became an 8-1 rout.

"Just stay in your approach, wait for your pitch, and stay confident," shortstop Addison Russell said. "We can't help what [pitches] are being thrown, what inning it is. If we don't try to do too much with what the pitcher is giving up, then we'll be OK."

Starter Jason Hammel kept the Cubs even for most of his outing before surrendering his shutout in a most unlikely fashion: Ranaudo homered off Hammel in the top of the fifth. It was the first long ball hit by an American League pitcher this season, and Ranaudo's first hit as a professional. But Hammel wasn't concerned about his offense's lack of output.

"It's almost just like, 'wait, it'll happen,'" Hammel said. "We've got enough pop in the bat to score pretty quickly, and a lot, in a hurry. We just have to do a good job on the mound to keep it close, just give them a chance."

Still, no pitcher has ever accounted for the only run of his own no-hitter with a home run through five innings. At that point, going back to Tuesday's game, the Cubs had not scored in 14 frames against their crosstown rival.

Then Kris Bryant jolted the sold-out crowd into bedlam, as he hammered a Ranaudo curveball for his 26th homer of the season and tied the game. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Bryant is now the 12th player to have more than 25 homers in each of his first two seasons.

"That's more reflective of the beginning part of the year," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, "where we've kept games close then got heavy with the runs. But I'll take it, man."

The onslaught was just the beginning. In the seventh, Javier Baez chased Ranaudo with a blast over the left-field bleachers and onto Waveland Avenue. It was his third career go-ahead homer in the seventh inning or later, according to ESPN Stats & Info. That also earned Baez his first-ever curtain call at Wrigley.

"It was great," Baez said. "I was just living a dream. I hit a go-ahead homer, it was one of my dreams late in the game. And there it is."

Baez is a hot hitter, batting .354 with four home runs and 12 RBIs over his last 25 games. His homer played to another theme of the Cubs' late-arriving offense: consistency of approach.

"I was just trying to sit on it, trying to wait for one in the zone, and he finally threw it to me," Baez said.

Just like that, the Cubs offense had again gone from zero to 100 in the late innings, and the momentum was just picking up. They added five more runs in the eighth, capped by Russell's first career grand slam.

In fact, according to Elias, Russell became the youngest Cubs player to hit a grand slam since Nelson Mathews in 1962. And it also earned Russell the curtain-call treatment.

"It was kind of surreal, just rounding the bases," Russell said. "I was trying to remember the pandemonium of the fans. And stepping on home plate was awesome, to greet my teammates right there."

Ranaudo's budding historic night had turned into a Cubs blowout and turned Aroldis Chapman's Chicago debut into an non-dramatic spectacle of radar gun watching.

"All it takes is one," "Russell said. "Whether it's a walk or a bloop base hit. We'll feed off that, especially if the game is coming down to the wire."

The Cubs rank second in the majors (behind the St. Louis Cardinals) in runs scored in the seventh inning or later, and that trait has been even more pronounced of late. Over their last seven games, the Cubs have scored 18 runs in the seventh inning or later, and just 12 runs in the first six innings.

"I don't know," Maddon said. "We've been like that all year. I don't know if it's a product of youth. We don't take advantage early in the game often enough, then we put this pressure on ourselves to perform in the latter part of the game."

Either way, it adds up to a win and now with the bullpen turning into a potential lock-down group, perhaps a late-inning attack will be enough to get the Cubs where they want to go.

"Any way you look at it, I'll take it, man," Maddon said. "I really believe our young hitters, as they gain more experience, you're going to see them [where] we won't let a pitcher up early, which we've been doing a little bit lately."

If that happens, that's when the Cubs become truly scary.