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Cubs’ bats break out of slump starting with a bunt

Cubs’ bats break out of slump starting with a bunt
Chicago Cubs outfielder Ben Zobrist lays down a bunt single against the Dodgers to open the fourth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS Wednesday. (Harry How / Getty Images)

The Chicago Cubs, with all their power and the momentum of a 103-win regular season at their backs, eventually got around to bludgeoning the Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday night.

Struggling shortstop Addison Russell, mired in a one-for-25 post-season slump, powered a two-run home run to center field to cap a four-run fourth inning, and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, in a two-for-28 playoff skid, drove a solo homer to center in the fifth.

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Rizzo also highlighted a five-run sixth with a two-run single, and he and Russell each had three hits, as the Cubs pulled away for a 10-2 victory that completely changed the complexion of the best-of-seven series, which is now tied two games apiece.

For all the muscle the Cubs flexed, though, it was a bunt, a bloop and a highly productive out that revived their hopes of reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945 and winning their first championship since 1908.

Chicago mustered all of six hits in shutout losses in Games 2 and 3, and the Cubs extended their scoreless string to 21 innings when Dodgers left-hander Julio Urias held them hitless over the first three frames Wednesday.

Then cleanup batter Ben Zobrist led off the fourth inning of a scoreless game with a perfectly placed bunt single toward third. Javier Baez lunged for an 0-and-2 changeup and blooped a single off the end of his bat into shallow left field.

Catcher Willson Contreras lined an 0-2 fastball to left field for a run-scoring single, and when Andrew Toles' wild throw home went to the backstop, Baez took third, and Contreras took second.

Jason Heyward followed with a groundout to second, scoring Baez for a 2-0 lead and advancing Contreras to third. Russell then crushed a 1-0 fastball for his first homer since Sept. 19, and the Cubs were well on their way to victory.

"How about a bunt by your No. 4 hitter gets the whole thing rolling?" Cubs Manager Joe Maddon said. "How unlikely is that? We do that, Baez works a great at-bat, Contreras works a great at-bat, and Heyward does what he needs to do, grounder to second. Then Addison got back to normal. So it's contagious, just like the lack of hits is contagious."

Even with his two hits Wednesday night, Zobrist is batting .194 (six for 31) in eight playoff games, but if the Cubs can get by the Dodgers and reach the World Series, they might look at a ball that rolled about 25 feet as one of their biggest hits of the post-season.

"He's a winning player," backup catcher David Ross said of Zobrist. "There's a reason why he's been around for so long and been on winning teams. Even when you're not feeling great at the plate, you can still affect the game in a winning way, and that's what he did."

Amid calls to shake up his lineup and possibly bench Russell and Heyward, Cubs Manager Joe Maddon resisted the urge to hit the panic button. He left Rizzo in the third spot, Russell at shortstop and started the left-handed-hitting Heyward against Urias.

"At any moment, they could all break loose, and all of a sudden this turns into an entirely different direction," Maddon said before the game. Those words seemed prophetic a few hours later, after Russell and Rizzo broke out of slumps and the Cubs amassed 13 hits.

"It should definitely help their confidence," Maddon said of Russell and Rizzo. "Going into [Thursday], they're probably going to see the ball better, slow things down a little bit."

Asked if his performance gave him a sense of relief or exhilaration, Russell said, "All of the above. I've been struggling this post-season, but I didn't panic. My confidence was still there."

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Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna

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