The Cubs showed so much guts and resiliency during their championship season that they had "WE NEVER QUIT" inscribed on the bottom of the outer band to their World Series rings.
Not even 10 percent into the schedule, it's still way too early to draw any grand conclusions about the 2017 team. But largely the same group of players – supremely talented and a year older and a year wiser – has already shown some of those essential qualities.
Addison Russell flipped his bat to the ground and had a little bounce in his steps on Wednesday after he connected with a 97-mph fastball from Neftali Feliz, launching it into Wrigley Field's left-field bleachers for a three-run, walk-off homer. Russell tossed his helmet aside and jumped into the mosh pit awaiting at home plate, teammates pouring bottled water on him after a dramatic 7-4 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.
"Just don't give up – that's the type of style that we play," Russell said. "It seems like whenever you kind of count us out, we seem to have a spark. That's all it takes – one hit, one walk and we get rolling."
That comeback ended the homestand where the Cubs finally raised a World Series banner, got their championship bling and unofficially ended their 2016 victory tour. The defending champs are 8-7 and have won four of their first five series this season, hoping this creates a sense of momentum for a three-city road trip that goes through Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Boston.
"There's been a lot going on, a lot of outside factors pushing against us," said Kyle Hendricks, who has a 6.19 ERA after a four-run, five-inning start against the Brewers. "It was a tough stretch for a little bit there, but these teams we're playing, man, they're coming for us. We have the target on our backs."
Friday will mark the two-year anniversary of Russell's big-league debut. He's still only three months removed from his 23rd birthday. He's already been a 21-homer, 95-RBI, All-Star shortstop, one of the clutch hitters for a championship team.
Russell delivered in the eighth inning by softly lifting a Corey Knebel curveball over the head of first baseman Eric Thames and just beyond the infield dirt for an RBI single that sliced Milwaukee's lead to 4-3.
It didn't matter that Knebel and Feliz struck out Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr. and Javier Baez to kill that rally – or that the starting lineup didn't feature Kyle Schwarber, Ben Zobrist or Jason Heyward and the afternoon began with a 55-minute rain delay and Hendricks putting the Cubs in a 3-0 deficit by the second inning.
The day after another comeback win over the Brewers (8-8), Mike Montgomery, Pedro Strop, Koji Uehara and Wade Davis combined to throw four scoreless innings while pinch-running reliever Carl Edwards Jr. scored the game-winning run.
"We just keep coming back for more," manager Joe Maddon said. "It was really one of those ugly wins, but you'll take 'em any day of the week.
"We don't quit. It's on the ring, man, and that's a perfect example."