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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.”

Cubs not concerned after another back issue for Anthony Rizzo

Cubs not concerned after another back issue for Anthony Rizzo

The Cubs entered play Sunday 1.5 games behind the Cardinals in the National League Central with exactly five weeks of action to play. 

So now would be an awful time for the Cubs to lose one of their best players and a key to their offense for an extended period of time.

But the organization wasn't overly concerned about Anthony Rizzo's back prior to Sunday's series finale with the Nationals at Wrigley Field, a game in which he was not in the lineup (Ian Happ started at first base instead).

Rizzo was forced out of Saturday's game in the fifth inning with mid-back tightness and this is far from the first time the All-Star first baseman has dealt with back issues. He missed four games in mid-May with a back problem and needed a trip to the injured list in April of last season for the same reason.

But this instance isn't necessarily related to the others.

"A little bit different spot, he said, so we're not as concerned," Joe Maddon relayed Sunday morning. "It's normally in just a little bit of a different spot. When I talked to him [Saturday], Anthony was pretty optimistic. I'll just wait and see what [trainers] say."

Maddon also said Rizzo was still pretty sore/stiff Sunday morning before receiving treatment from the Cubs medical staff. Barring a "miracle cure," the manager didn't see any way he would insert Rizzo into Sunday's game, even as a pinch-hitter.

The Cubs only had three position players on the bench for the last week as they rolled nine deep in the bullpen. That left them in a bit of a pickle for Saturday's game when Rizzo exited early, but to make up for it Sunday, they called David Bote back up to the big leagues and put reliever Derek Holland on the 10-day IL with a left wrist contusion.

Rizzo and the Cubs have the benefit of an off-day Monday to help aid his recovery. But this inconsistent lineup could really use his bat every day, especially over the next week with three games against the Mets in New York (against Marcus Stroman, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard) before the Brewers come into Wrigley for a four-game set.

Cubs recall David Bote from Triple-A with Anthony Rizzo's back ailing

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USA TODAY

Cubs recall David Bote from Triple-A with Anthony Rizzo's back ailing

David Bote's minor league stint didn't last long.

After demoting the 26-year-old to Triple-A Iowa on Monday, the Cubs recalled Bote on Sunday. In a corresponding move, the team placed Derek Holland (left wrist contusion) on the 10-day injured list.

Bote's return comes on the heels of Anthony Rizzo exiting Saturday's game due to mid-back tightness. Rizzo has dealt with back issues at various points in his career, missing four games in May this season with a similar ailment. 

The Cubs activated Steve Cishek off the injured list Tuesday, with the reliever filling Bote's vacancy on the 25-man roster. Thus, the Cubs had been playing with 14 pitchers and 11 position players for much of this week. Had they not recalled Bote, they Cubs would've had to play Sunday's game with just Victor Caratini and Tony Kemp available off the bench.

A similar situation occurred Saturday, as Rizzo exited the game in the bottom of the fifth inning. To save the Cubs from running out of position players, reliever Kyle Ryan took his at-bat in the sixth inning. Although he drew a walk, Ryan was thrown out attempting to take third base on a pitch that got away from Nationals catcher Yan Gomes.

Holland was hit by a comebacker in Tuesday's game against the Giants. Him landing on the injured list leaves Ryan as the lone lefty in the Cubs bullpen. The former holds a 5.74 ERA this season in 43 overall games between the Cubs and Giants, though that number is a more respectable 4.66 in 12 appearances with the Cubs.

Bote is hitting .257/.352/.429 with 10 home runs and 40 RBIs in 106 games (268 at-bats) this season. 

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