Anthony Rizzo channels Rocky Balboa to keep Cubs loose before Game 5 World Series victory

Anthony Rizzo channels Rocky Balboa to keep Cubs loose before Game 5 World Series victory

Anthony Rizzo will spend part of Monday scavenging for trunks and boxing gloves so he can dress up for the Cubs’ Halloween night flight to Cleveland.

But the Cubs first baseman already acted out several of Rocky Balboa’s most significant fights in the home clubhouse on Sunday night prior to a 3-2 Game 5 victory over the Cleveland Indians in front of 41,711 at Wrigley Field.

In an attempt to fire up his teammates, the three-time All-Star played several ‘Rocky’ movies on televisions throughout the clubhouse and shadowboxed with several teammates. The Cubs then extended their heavyweight bout with the Indians at least one more game with the first World Series victory at Wrigley Field since Game 6 of the 1945 Fall Classic. The Indians take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 when action resumes at 7:08 p.m. CST on Tuesday night.

“Just pulled it all out,” Rizzo said. “Got to put out the inspirational, underdog. We’re saying we’re going to battle, we’ve got to go the distance. There were some speeches in here, some motivational stuff.

“You’ve got to keep it loose.”

Loose was a priority as Rizzo said the nervous energy produced by a Wrigley crowd witnessing its first World Series in 71 years was palpable. Trailing 3-1 in the Series, Rizzo admitted Cubs fans weren’t the only ones with a case of the nerves.

“A lot of nervous energy at some points in the ballpark just like we were feeling,” Rizzo said.

But the Cubs fended off those emotions well enough to turn in an all-around crisp performance. Not only did they receive Herculean pitching efforts from Jon Lester and Aroldis Chapman, the defense ran on all cylinders. And then the middle of the order made its first significant impact since the fifth inning of Game 2.

Kris Bryant fired up his teammates and the crowd with a game-tying solo home run in the bottom of the fourth inning. Rizzo, who changed his walkup music to the theme from Rocky for his first at-bat, lined Trevor Bauer’s next pitch off the right-field fence for a double. When he reached second, ahead of a Ben Zobrist single, Rizzo shadowed boxed in the direction of the Cubs’ dugout.

It was the first time in the 2016 World Series the Cubs have strung together three consecutive hits and Addison Russell followed with an RBI single to drive in Rizzo and give them a 2-1 lead. Three batters later, a sac fly by David Ross gave the Cubs a two-run cushion they wouldn’t relinquish.

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“They kind of put their pitcher on the ropes a little bit,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We had better at-bats. We got our three runs. Yes, all of that. That's kind of what happened in Los Angeles where all of a sudden we got that one big blow.

“It's incredible when you do that what it does to your team and what it does to the (opposing) pitcher. It's just part of the game. So you have to be able to punch and counter-punch all the time, and we were able to do that tonight.”

After it worked on Sunday, Rizzo joked he might seek out a boxing outfit for the final road trip of the season. Not that teams need a ton of motivation at this point in a season. But every little bit helps as Rizzo found out Sunday.

“We had to get the levels up and we had Rocky on every TV in here before,” Rizzo said. “Imitating the boxing matches, the fight.

“We’ve got to go the distance now and we’ve got to believe in it.”

Joe Maddon is liking the look of Cubs 'backwards' lineup

Joe Maddon is liking the look of Cubs 'backwards' lineup

No matter how much people complain and Tweet, Joe Maddon will never go with a set lineup every game.

But that doesn't mean he won't let certain spots in the lineup settle in for a couple weeks in a row.

That's what may be occuring right now with Anthony Rizzo holding serve as the "Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All-Time" once again.

Rizzo made his 5th straight start atop the Cubs order Friday after collecting a pair of doubles and a walk in Thursday's 9-6 victory.

Initially, moving Rizzo from the heart of the order to the top was in part to help the Cubs first baseman get going. Maddon is a big fan of hitting guys leadoff to help them reset mentally and find their stroke again.

But it is working — Rizzo entered play Friday 8-for-16 with 5 doubles, 3 walks, 3 runs and 3 RBI in the leadoff spot over the last week. The promptly reached on a hit-by-pitch and walk his first two times up Friday.

He's also been the team's biggest cheerleader:

So how long will Maddon keep this unconventional lineup?

"I don't know," he said, smiling and shaking his head. "I don't know. He came up again in crucial moments [Thursday]. He looks really good out there. I don't know. That's my exact answer."

Yes, Rizzo is looking good in the leadoff spot, but his insertion atop the order has given the Cubs lineup a new dynamic. 

With Rizzo first and Kris Bryant second, the guys that are historically the Cubs' top two run producers are hitting atop the order and "behind" the pitcher's spot. 

But they're also the Cubs' top two on-base guys and Maddon is liking the look of Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist — two high-contact guys — following Bryzzo in the order, as they have done recently. (It doesn't hurt to have the NL leader in RBI — Javy Baez — hitting cleanup, either.)

"It's almost a backwards way of doing this right now that I'm finding fascinating," Maddon said. "So I'm just gonna let it play for just a little bit and see where it takes us."

It's taken the Cubs on a 4-game winning streak endcapping the All-Star Break, though the Cardinals got up big early Friday afternoon.

For a team that leads the NL in just about every important offensive category, it's going to be a huge key moving forward if Rizzo gets going on a consistent basis in the second half.

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

The Cubs didn't wait long to make Joe Maddon's words come true.

Roughly 5 hours after Maddon said the Cubs are definitely in the market for more pitching, the front office went out and acquired Jesse Chavez, a journeyman jack-of-all-trades type.

It's a minor move, not in the realm of Zach Britton or any of the other top relievers on the market.

But the Cubs only had to part with pitcher Class-A pitcher Tyler Thomas, their 7th-round draft pick from last summer who was pitching out of the South Bend rotation as a 22-year-old.

Chavez — who turns 35 in a month — brings over a vast array of big-league experience, with 799 innings under his belt. He's made 70 starts, 313 appearances as a reliever and even has 3 saves, including one this season for the Texas Rangers.

Chavez is currently 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. He has a career 4.61 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching for the Pirates, Braves, Royals, Blue Jays, A's, Dodgers, Angels and Rangers before coming to Chicago.

Of his 30 appearances this season, Chavez has worked multiple innings 18 times and can serve as a perfect right-handed swingman in the Cubs bullpen, filling the role previously occupied by Luke Farrell and Eddie Butler earlier in the season.

Chavez had a pretty solid run as a swingman in Oakland from 2013-15, making 47 starts and 50 appearances as a reliever, pitching to a 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 across 360.1 innings.

"Good arm, versatile, could start and relieve," Joe Maddon said Thursday after the trade. "I've watched him. I know he had some great runs with different teams. 

"The word that comes to mind is verstaility. You could either start him or put him in the bullpen and he's very good in both arenas."

It's not a flasy move, but a valuable piece to give the Cubs depth down the stretch.

There's no way the Cubs are done after this one trade with nearly two weeks left until the deadline. There are more moves coming from this front office, right?

"Oh yeah," Maddon said. "I don't think that's gonna be the end of it. They enjoy it too much."