No one around this team flips the switch quite like Anthony Rizzo, who usually rolls into the Wrigley Field clubhouse looking like he just woke up from a nap, and spends an extraordinary amount of time with cancer patients at Lurie Children’s Hospital, and absolutely wants to own October and be the new Mr. Cub.
It depends on the mood. Rizzo can be purposely boring with the media or extremely entertaining, writing everything off as “just baseball” or predicting the Cubs would win the division after an 89-loss season in 2014 and the franchise’s fifth-straight fifth-place finish.
Remember Rizzo in the middle of an epic World Series Game 7 against the Cleveland Indians, clinging to a mic-d up David Ross in Progressive Field’s visiting dugout: “I can’t control myself right now. I’m trying my best. I’m emotional. I’m an emotional wreck.” Rizzo leaned into Grandpa Rossy and cracked up teammate Tommy La Stella with an “Anchorman” quote: “I am in a glass case of emotion right now.”
Rizzo screaming “Respect me! Respect me!” and pounding his chest will be one of the takeaway moments from this National League Division Series, making Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker pay for the key Game 3 decision to let lefty reliever Oliver Perez pitch to him.
“He has been underrated,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Tuesday’s forecast pushed Game 4 back to Wednesday at 3:08 p.m. “For me, he always should be in the MVP consideration. That’s just Anthony being Anthony in the moment. I would almost bet – had he had a chance to reevaluate what he said right there – he may have. But that’s just Rizz. He’s very self-confident.
“And there’s not a thing wrong with that. In this game, there’s so much failure involved, you have to have that self-confidence to overcome the negative moments. That was truly Rizz being Rizz.”
Rizzo lifted the first pitch from Perez into the no man’s land between shortstop Trea Turner and converging outfielders Jayson Werth and Michael A. Taylor, the ball dropping for a two-out, go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning of Monday’s 2-1 win. That left the Nationals one loss away from winter and the Cubs one win away from their third straight trip to the NL Championship Series.
That type of Sustained Success sounded unthinkable in the middle of the 2012 season, when Rizzo took over for first baseman Bryan LaHair on a team that would lose 101 games. Rizzo began to prove why Theo Epstein’s baseball operations group had such a man crush on him, putting his own imprint on the franchise with his relaxed attitude and hair-trigger intensity.
“You’ve just got to stay in the moment,” Rizzo said. “These games, it doesn't matter what you did the last at-bat, if you got a hit, if you got a home run. It's all about that pitch, and that next pitch, and you've got to be ready.
“What you did previously means nothing anymore. You've got to be ready every single pitch. And to stay in games like this, we know. We know we're good.”
A bloop single still goes down in the record books. Rizzo now has a nine-game hitting streak in postseason play, going 13-for-33 (.394) with two home runs and 10 RBI during that stretch. That streak is tied with Riggs Stephenson (1929-32) for third-longest as a Cub, trailing Frank “Wildfire” Schulte (13 games between 1906-10) and Ryne Sandberg (10 games from 1984-89). Rizzo’s six career homers and 17 RBI in the playoffs are both franchise records.
It’s not that Rizzo’s underrated as much as other young players became the next thing in Wrigleyville, Kris Bryant beat him in last year’s NL MVP race, the Cubs are overflowing with other characters/distractions/storylines and you almost take the Gold Glove defense and the 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons (three in a row) for granted now.
But Rizzo is 28 years old and under club control through 2021 and said it after Jon Lester signed that $155 million megadeal: The Cubs should be contenders for the rest of his career.
“We know someone is going to come through, and it's just a matter of time before someone does,” Rizzo said. “It's just who we are. We all believe in each other."