Addison Russell finally had his major player moment in the 2016 MLB playoffs. Last season, as a rookie, Russell's playoffs was cut short.
He hit a triple in the late innings of Game 3 of last year’s NLDS, tweaked something sliding into third and had to watch the remainder of that series and the Cubs’ NLCS loss to the Mets while he rested a pulled hamstring.
After establishing himself as a future star at shortstop in 2016, Russell, the 11th overall pick in the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft out of Pace High School in Florida, was looking to make his mark in these playoffs.
Early in the series, "AR " was suffering from the same hitting deficiency that the rest of the mighty Cubs team was experiencing as they were shut out in Games 2 and 3 by LA. Chicago had not scored a run in 21 consecutive innings, its longest drought ever in the postseason, and Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Julio Urias was sailing along in a scoreless Game 4.
The meat of the Cubs’ batting order had gone 2-for-35 to that point in the series, when Ben Zobrist beat out a bunt leading off the fourth. It was the spark that the Cubs needed as they followed the bunt with an onslaught of runs not matched in an NLCS game in a half decade.
Russell was hitting below .100 in the playoffs, but in the fourth inning on Wednesday his two-run homer capped a four-run inning that gave Chicago a lead that it wouldn’t relinquish. The Cubs won 10-2 and evened the roller coaster series at 2-2.
On Wednesday, I wrote a piece imploring Cubs fans not to panic because they were down 2-1. Seven-game series have a way of shaking out in favor of the superior team. It was only a matter of time before one of their plethora of All-Star position players started mashing.
Russell, of half Black and Filipino descent, set it off for the bomb squad in true leader fashion. He was destined to be an MLB stud, always charting in the Top 5 of baseball’s best prospects, before being traded to the Cubs in 2014 and becoming the starter in 2015.
His multi-faceted skill set and deft defense made him the first high school athlete selected by the A's in the first round of the draft since Jeremy Bonderman in 2001.
By the end of his second full MLB season, Russell had 95 RBI and became the second Cubs shortstop with over 90 for a season, equaling the feat of legendary baller Ernie Banks -- Mr. Cubs himself -- who did it five times during his Hall of Fame career with a losing but lovable Cubs team back in the day.
(Photo Credit: dailynews.com)
Banks never got a shot to strut his stuff in October and holds the record for most career games without a playoff appearance. He was a true Black Knight of baseball in his 19 seasons and the lifeline of a team that never had the surrounding talent to be a viable World Series contender.
Understanding Banks’ legacy should inspire Russell to take advantage and appreciate making the playoffs his first two seasons in the Big Leagues. In addition, Russell has the unique opportunity to pump life into the diminishing lineage of black MLB superstar shortstops.