NEW YORK — Joe Maddon didn’t experience divine inspiration during his visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Tuesday as much as Ben Zobrist’s nagging left wrist injury made the World Series MVP unavailable that night against the New York Mets.
To be honest, the Cubs are running out of ideas to jumpstart their lineup and Maddon isn’t the type of manager who pretends the outside world doesn’t exist and loses sleep at the team’s Midtown Manhattan hotel.
How about Anthony Rizzo hitting leadoff?
Rizzo lobbied Maddon for it, talked trash with Dexter Fowler and texted the old you-go, we-go leadoff guy. You will definitely see that look again on Wednesday night against Matt Harvey after Rizzo ignited the offense in a 14-3 win at Citi Field, the kind of low-stress, playing-from-ahead game the Cubs have rarely put together this year.
“It’s the mental grind of the season,” Rizzo said. “I just keep telling everyone: ‘We’re good.’ We’re good baseball players. We’ve hit our entire lives. We’ve hit since we came out of the womb, basically. In Little League, high school, travel ball, in college, in the minors. We’ve all hit up here, too.
“It’s just a matter of getting that confidence back and trying not to get two knocks in one at-bat. Just pass it onto the next guy. That’s what we keep telling each other. It’ll turn. And if it doesn’t, we’ll keep working until it does.”
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Standing at his locker before the game and listening to state-of-the-team questions, Rizzo promised: “I’m going to be ready to go first pitch.” Rizzo waited until Zack Wheeler’s second pitch before launching a 95-mph fastball over the center-field wall and beyond the Big Apple for a home run in his first career at-bat in the leadoff spot.
Rizzo then came back from an 0-2 count with the bases loaded in the second inning, working a seven-pitch, two-out walk that gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead. Ian Happ destroyed Wheeler’s next pitch, blasting a 94-mph fastball out to left field for his first career grand slam (in a game where he also struck out four times). Three batters later, Addison Russell ended Wheeler’s night with a two-run double down the left-field line.
Rizzo also chipped in with an RBI double in the third inning, and this is a lineup that can go cold or get hot depending on its All-Star/Gold Glove/Silver Slugger first baseman.
“My reaction was: Why not?” Jon Lester said after pitching with some margin for error and notching his 150th career win. “Anything to get us going, and he did.”
For one night, the defending World Series champs could exhale and deflect attention away from a 32-32 start where the Cubs have broken down in every phase of the game.
“Do we need a shakeup?” Rizzo said. “We need to start winning. We need to start winning baseball games and getting a really good feeling in here again.
“Winning cures a lot, so whatever it takes. If I need to hit ninth, if I need to pitch, if I need to play shortstop, it doesn’t matter. I think anyone will say the same thing — whatever it takes.”
Yeah, whatever it takes, right, Joe?
“I’ll be at St. Paddy’s again tomorrow, too,” Maddon joked. “I really avoid praying for success as a group hitting or pitching. I don’t focus on those things. That’s not what candles are for.”