Russell’s second big blast in 2 games lifts Cubs

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Chicago Cubs’ Addison Russell is congratulated after scoring during the eighth inning of Game 5 of the National League baseball championship series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

LOS ANGELES – A home run a day will keep the critics away.

Especially in the National League Championship Series.

After Addison Russell hit one in a near must-win game for the Cubs against the Dodgers in Game 4 on Wednesday night, he reached into his bag of big, clutch blasts for another in the pivotal fifth game Thursday.

To think that Russell, the coming of age All-Star shortstop who was batting .077 in the postseason before Game 4, was the subject of some “bench this guy” suggestions. As deep as the Cubs are, the thought was not without merit: Have Javy Baez move to shortstop, put Ben Zobrist at second base and get Russell’s struggling bat out of the Cubs’ scuffling lineup for a day.

All is magnified in short series, and manager Joe Maddon knew this, so of course he stuck with Russell. Those homers he launched into center field will be magnified, too, in Russell’s postseason chart in Baseball Reference.

The final score doesn’t suggest a tight game, but it was for seven innings when the Cubs led 3-1 on Russell’s tiebreaking two-run homer against Joe Blanton in the sixth. Javier Baez led off with a single, and after Jason Heyward struck out, Russell turned the series decidedly in the Cubs favor.

“Around the bases I felt pretty excited and pumped up not only for the team but to give Jon a cushion,” Russell said. “It felt pretty good.’’

When the Cubs tacked on five runs in the eighth, it was Russell who started it by reaching on an error by Pedro Baez. Russell also singled in the ninth, giving him five hits in the last two games.

“He’s a pro,’’ Dexter Fowler said of Russell. “Him and Riz [Anthony Rizzo], they were struggling and they kept their sites on it. I’m really happy for them.

“Let them do their thing. They carried us all year, and you don’t have years like that by accident.’’

Russell said he never lost his confidence through his short slump.

“My at-bats haven’t been bad but you stick to your plan,’’ he said. “There’s a little frustration because you want to help your team. But my confidence stayed up.’’

In the sixth inning, Maddon wanted solid at-bats, runners on base. He got one with Baez.

Then Russell did his part.

“I was looking for something up in the zone, try not to do too much and find a gap,’’ he said.

“First pitch was a slider, a little low. Second pitch was a little elevated and it kind of went.’’

Elevated? The Cubs were flying high back to Chicago Thursday, but they know they have a tough one to beat in Clayton Kershaw on Saturday night in Game 6.

“We’re very close to our goal tonight,’’ Maddon said. “It’s within our reach. Let’s go play our game Saturday.’’

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