BALTIMORE -- During the All-Star break, Anthony Rizzo went on a boat trip to Bimini, Javier Baez enjoyed family and the beach in Puerto Rico, and Jacob Arrieta returned home to Austin, Texas. Collectively, the Cubs hit the re-set button on the season."I like the look in the guys' eyes,"
BALTIMORE -- During the All-Star break, Anthony Rizzo went on a boat trip to Bimini, Javier Baez enjoyed family and the beach in Puerto Rico, and Jacob Arrieta returned home to Austin, Texas. Collectively, the Cubs hit the re-set button on the season.
"I like the look in the guys' eyes," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said prior to a 9-8, Interleague win over the Orioles. "I think everyone is refreshed and ready to put the first half behind us as well as being accountable for it."
The Cubs nearly spoiled it. They opened an 8-0 lead on home runs by Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Benjamin Zobrist and Jason Heyward, but the bullpen, which had been a strength in the first half, couldn't maintain that cushion and the Orioles tied it at 8 on a two-run homer by Mark Trumbo in the eighth.
Addison Russell then delivered the game-winner, hitting a solo homer with one out in the ninth off Brad Brach.
"That's what we did see [from Russell] last year -- the home run, the RBI, the big hit," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the shortstop, who drove in 95 runs in 2016, but has just 30 so far this season. "I would like to believe he's going to gain some confidence from that."
Russell's blast sparked the postgame celebration, the first for newcomer Jose Quintana to witness. The Cubs acquired the left-hander on Thursday from the White Sox, knowing the rotation could use some help to get the team over .500.
• Quintana arrives with Cubs
"I feel like, as a team, we know the type of goals we have to hit as a team," Russell said. "It's clear we're not first in the division, but that's one of the goals. We're trying to be at the top."
That message was shared by others.
"We have to play better -- that's it," Rizzo said. "It's plain and simple. We have to play better baseball and become the team everyone loves again."
"We haven't been able to get a firm grasp on the way we've been playing and it's been up and down," Arrieta said. "We obviously need to gain some ground. We need to win several games in a row and try to do that often, try to shorten the gap and maybe get ahead of these guys in the next month."
The Cubs have blown an eight-run lead before -- they did that against the White Sox on June 28, 2002 -- but to come off the All-Star break wanting to open the second half strong, get a huge lead and then blow it might have been hard to recover from.
"It would've been very difficult to lose that game, I will not deny that, but we didn't; we won it," Maddon said.
So, forget the first half, Cubs fans. Schwarber has.
"The first half is a wash for me," Schwarber said. "It's just [a matter of] going out there and getting back to competing and focusing on my at-bat and focusing on the team at-bat and focusing on the team, period. We started off on the right foot -- this is a big one for us, right there. We faced a little adversity and we were able to come through and it's a great feeling."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.