Anthony Rizzo's walk-off walk delivers Cubs a bizarre 10th win in a row

Anthony Rizzo's walk-off walk delivers Cubs a bizarre 10th win in a row

Anthony Rizzo delivered the Cubs their 10th consecutive victory in fitting fashion for a rivalry game littered with odd occurrences. 

The Cubs’ All-Star first baseman drew a walk-off walk against left-hander Zach Duke to earn the Cubs a 4-3 11-inning win over the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday night in front of 40,597 at Wrigley Field. Rizzo worked a 3-1 count against Duke, the former White Sox reliever, before taking a two-seam fastball home plate umpire Ron Kulpa ruled inside for ball four. 

Brooks Baseball’s pitch graph showed Duke’s pitch was in the strike zone, for what it’s worth. With Duke’s two-seam action tailing that pitch inside toward Rizzo’s hands — which are already on top of the plate with his crowding batting stance — the pitch may have looked more inside to Kulpa than it actually was. 

“It was a good pitch,” Rizzo said. “I thought it was a little in. I’m on top of the plate. I’m looking right there, so I’m probably swinging if it was something close to hit.”

Manager Joe Maddon wasn’t sure if Rizzo’s crowd-the-plate stance contributed to the call, but did allow for the possibility. 

“Umpires see things differently,” Maddon said. “He is on the plate and it can be difficult to see sometimes, even for the catcher.”  

But the walk-off walk on a close-at-worst pitch was hardly the only strange event on a muggy evening on Clark and Addison. 

There was Chris Coghlan trying to call for time, getting quick-pitched by Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez and still lacing a game-tying two-run single into right field in the sixth inning. Thirty-nine-year-old catcher David Ross followed that by laying down a two-out squeeze, with Martinez rushing an off-balance throw that pulled first baseman Matt Carpenter off the bag to put the Cubs temporarily ahead. 

Ross picked off Jedd Gyorko, whose slide didn’t come close to reaching the first base bag, for the first out of the seventh, and Coghlan and Addison Russell completed a picturesque relay to nail Carpenter at the plate to end the seventh. Aroldis Chapman retired the Cardinals in order in the ninth on three pitches. 

“He gets a steak dinner for that,” Maddon said.

[SHOP: Buy an Anthony Rizzo jersey]

In the 11th, Mike Montgomery — who last pitched July 31 — loaded the bases when he walked Kolten Wong, who entered Thursday with the lowest OPS (.663) of any Cardinals player with more than 100 plate appearances. But Montgomery then struck out Carpenter, who has the highest OPS of any Cardinals player (.988), despite having to change signs with catcher Willson Contreras during the middle of the at-bat. 

“Big situation, you don’t want to do that, but I haven’t thrown to him a lot,” Montgomery said. “I think it’s good to do that and kind of slow it down a little bit.”

And during most of that nearly-disastrous top of the 11th, and throughout the bottom of the 11th, starter John Lackey was warming up in the Cubs’ bullpen, just as he did during that wild comeback win over the Seattle Mariners July 31 that started this 10-game winning streak. 

Jon Lester offered his take on the secret to the Cubs’ wild victories of late: “I guess just put Lackey in the bullpen and let him warm up.” 

The absurdity of Thursday’s game wound up working out in the Cubs’ favor, pushing them to a 13-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central. While St. Louis, which is now a half-game out of a wild card spot, has only managed to tread water recently, the Cubs are doing their best Katie Ledecky impression and putting a seemingly insurmountable gap between themselves and the rest of their divisional challengers. 

The Cubs were only 6 1/2 games ahead of the Cardinals when they fell behind the Mariners 6-0 after three innings July 31. The low-hanging narrative would be that from that point on, this team has rode a wave of momentum to this winning streak and massive NL Central lead. 

But that’s not how Lester views things from he and his teammates’ perch atop the major leagues. 

“I don’t feel like we need momentum,” Lester said. “I just feel like we’re a really solid team.” 

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.