In 'rollercoaster' Cubs year, Russell gets first win

In 'rollercoaster' Cubs year, Russell gets first win
September 3, 2010, 8:58 pm

Friday, Sept. 3, 2010
Updated 6:45 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

James Russell made the team out of spring training as a 24-year-old rookie. Except for the 18-day stretch he spent at Triple-A Iowa in June, he has been there for almost all of the weirdness surrounding this Cubs season.

But it wasnt until the third day of September that he earned his first major-league victory. His father Jeff won 56 games, lost 73 and saved 186 for five different teams during his 14-year career. There was a text message waiting for the son on Friday afternoon, saying congratulations and call home.

Blake DeWitt secured the 7-6 victory over the New York Mets with a three-run homer he launched into Wrigley Fields right-field bleachers. Afterward the 6-foot-4-inch Russell, an easy-going type who once pitched at the University of Texas, had changed into shorts and a T-shirt and stood in front of his locker.

I guess I owe Blake a beer or two, he said.

Russell recently got a haircut, shaved his beard and joked that he looked like he was 14 years old. Outside of Starlin Castro, the Cubs can drink legally, but the average age of their roster is 28 years and 72 days, making them the eighth-youngest group in the majors.

Thats why its crucial that their next manager be able to guide players who are on a steep learning curve. A 58-77 team overall is now 7-3 since Mike Quade took over for Lou Piniella. Beyond wins and losses, Quade hopes there will be a full accounting of his 37 games in charge.

The guys are playing hard, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. Mikes done a real nice job of getting everybody involved and giving people chances and putting some people in spots that wed like them to be in, so we can see what we got by the end of the year.

Its hard to tell what the Cubs have in Randy Wells, who finished a strong rookie season at 12-10 with a 3.05 ERA last year. Just check out his splits from July (2-2, 1.83) and August (1-4, 5.91). He began September by giving in to a media label he hates.

You put yourself in the mindset coming into spring training that this sophomore jinx or whatever you guys call it isnt real, Wells said. You can work through it. But the truth of the matter (is) the biggest part of the sophomore jinx is mental. Its learning how to work through the bad things, working through the struggles.

Wells gave up three runs in the first before putting together four scoreless innings. Quade came out to the mound to visit him with two outs in the sixth and left him in the game, trying to buy time for his bullpen, and knowing that Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes were on the Mets bench.

Lucas Duda slapped an RBI double into the right-field corner for his first major-league hit to tie the game 4-4. Wells was charged with four runs on eight hits in 5 23 innings.

Its not a matter of ability. Its not a matter of stuff, Wells said. Its just a matter of knowing how to deal with this league. The reports get better. Guys have seen you.

You got to be on top of your game every time. Theres no, Ok, Im not sharp, but Im hoping guys hit balls right at people.

Wells isnt going through this alone, and he knows that he will be challenged for a job in 2011. Russell bailed him out by getting Beltran to fly out to end the sixth, minutes before DeWitt changed the game with one swing.

In front of 31,424 fans, Russell (1-1, 4.50) faced only one batter and threw seven pitches, but that was enough. Hes shown that he could be a useful bullpen piece in the future and was finally rewarded with a win. When youre young and play for the Cubs, theres no shortage of places to celebrate.

Its been quite a rollercoaster ride, but I wouldnt trade it for anything in the world, Russell said. Thats one thing I pride myself on not getting too up or too down. The minute you get really high in this game, you get a piece of humble pie. And next thing you know youre down in Triple-A.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.