The story could not have followed a more perfect trajectory:
Injured star (Anthony Rizzo) makes a miraculous recovery, hits a big home run in a huge game and helps will his team to victory.
Except for the last part.
After suffering a nasty-looking ankle injury in Sunday's game, Rizzo was announced as the Cubs' leadoff hitter and first baseman about 20 minutes before first pitch Thursday night and hit a game-tying homer in his second trip to the plate.
It was the only offense the Cubs were able to muster against Jack Flaherty, but they pulled off an epic comeback in the ninth inning — with Javy Baez scoring the game-tying run in his first action since Sept. 1.
That was quickly erased with Matt Carpenter's go-ahead homer off Craig Kimbrel in the top of the 10th inning and the Cardinals went on to win 5-4 and bury the Cubs 4 games back in the division.
But nobody's pointing the finger at Rizzo, who has spent the last four days in a walking boot and was unable to even put weight on his right ankle up until Wednesday, when he retired his snack-filled scooter.
Joe Maddon was planning on being without one of his most important players until the moment Rizzo was out in left field, running and jumping on the grass.
Rizzo didn't even know he was going to be able to play until that moment, either.
"You get the questions of waiting a couple more days, but we don't have a couple more days," Rizzo said. "We gotta win now. And I love this team. ... I love playing. That's what I want to do. It's what I love doing — playing baseball, especially for this team that we're fighting at Wrigley Field in late September to go to the playoffs and that's where all the magic happens."
He exited the game after the fifth inning and immediately went back into the training room to continue treatment. He received a cortisone shot Monday and otherwise has been religiously following the "RICE" treatment plan (rest, ice, compression, elevation), with help from the Cubs medical staff at the ballpark and his wife — "Nurse Emily" — at home.
"I kept saying, 'this ankle doesn't stand a chance,'" Rizzo said. "It's still obviously sore, but it was good enough to play."
Rizzo walked into and out of the Cubs press conference room without the boot and said he felt "good" and was hoping to play Friday, though he admitted he would be smart and let the team know if he was unable to suit up.
Quite the turnaround from a guy who stood at his locker Monday afternoon with his right knee bent and resting on the scooter (which did not yet have tassels or a horn or snacks at that point) and the Robocop-like boot on his ankle.
"Honestly, when I told you guys [Monday] 'I'll let you know in a few days,' I did not think in a few days I'd be doing this," he said. "I had a positive mindset — 'It's gonna take me three days. Watch, it's gonna take me three days.' And everyone was just kinda like, 'no way.' I believed I was healthy and I am."
Still, even with the made-for-Hollywood return, the Cubs will wake up Friday morning out of a playoff spot for the first time since April 30.
Thursday could've been an epic, season-altering comeback, but instead the Cubs are forced to find a way to move on after another gut-punch.
At least they now have Rizzo, Baez and Kimbrel back in the fold, even if they're not all 100 percent.
"It's just all hands on deck," Rizzo said. "We have to win and I think guys want to win and are pushing themselves. Everyone is banged up this time of the year, so it's just mind over matter, really."