Cubs’ Nico Hoerner continues quiet ascent as final month of rebuilding season winds down

ST. LOUIS — Cubs manager David Ross remembers the final regular-season home game of his career for a lot of reasons. The cheers just for him from the Wrigley Field crowd. The buzz of ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” being in town. And it was 2016, of all wonderful times, when everything had a special edge to it.

But there was something else: a gesture by his Cardinals catching counterpart, Yadier Molina, before a Ross at-bat that gave fans time and space for a long, hearty standing ovation. Molina — a superstar, and certainly a more talented, accomplished player than Ross — dawdled subtly but purposefully as the cheers rose and Ross soaked in the love.

“It meant a lot to me,” Ross said, “and I’ve thanked him for that I think a gazillion times. It was really important to me how he handled that for me, and I’ll always respect him for that.”

Another nice moment came Sunday after Albert Pujols’ stirring 695th home run helped the Cardinals complete a series sweep with a 2-0 victory. As the Cardinals gathered near the mound for handshakes, Willson Contreras — who didn’t play in the series because of a troublesome ankle — hung over the dugout rail and waved and shouted until an opposing player finally saw him, tugged on Pujols sleeve and pointed Contreras’ way. The three-time All-Star doffed his cap to the Hall of Fame-bound legend, who doffed his own cap and in return.

With the Cubs rebuilding and Pujols and Molina about to retire — and Contreras himself getting ready to be a free agent — the I-55 rivalry certainly is entering a new phase. The Cardinals never really go out of win-now mode, and the Cubs might be chasing them for as long as elite stars Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arnado are still crushing it at the infield corners.

But someday, the faces of his rivalry could belong to former Stanford teammates Nico Hoerner and Tommy Edman. They lined up with Edman at short and Hoerner — two years younger — at second, with Hoerner moving over to his natural position after Edman moved on. Both were drafted by their current teams. Both reached the majors in 2019. Both have taken over at short. Both are becoming hitters to be reckoned with and serious-minded leaders with maturity beyond their years.

Tommy Edman after homering against the Cubs.

Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images

Edman made a living against the Cubs this season, collecting 25 hits in all and homering twice during the last series. Hoerner’s hot bat went cold at Busch Stadium — he was hitless in three games — but not even an awful September would take away from what the 25-year-old has established in 2022. The defense is there. The power is coming along. Hoerner as a cornerstone piece looks like a real thing.

“There’s no linear way to really go through this game,” he said. “There’s not many careers that go like that, where it’s just storybook, one thing to the next and you just consistently produce better and better and stay healthy.

“But I’m proud of where I’m at, and I think by just continuing to improve year by year — not knowing exactly what that looks like — but also trusting that process, I have a lot more to give in this game.”

Ross met Hoerner in a Wrigley suite in 2018, soon after Hoerner was drafted, and was struck by how much a college kid came off in conversation like a veteran big-leaguer. Infielder Patrick Wisdom calls Hoerner an “old soul” and an “assassin.”

“He’s quiet in the box and then — bam! — it explodes,” Wisdom said. “I love watching him play. I love having him out there. He’s smart, he’s prepared, he wants it, he’s a solid individual and he’s one of our best players.”


Tuesday: Justin Dunn (1-2, 4.63 ERA) vs. Wade Miley (1-0, 2.84 ERA), 6:40 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.

Wednesday: Mike Minor (3-10, 5.98) vs. Javier Assad (0-0, 0.90), 6:40 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.

Thursday: Luis Cessa (3-2, 5.18) vs. Adrian Sampson (1-5, 3.95), 1:20 p.m., YouTube, 670-AM.

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