Cubs

Anthony Rizzo's walk-off walk delivers Cubs a bizarre 10th win in a row

Anthony Rizzo's walk-off walk delivers Cubs a bizarre 10th win in a row

Anthony Rizzo delivered the Cubs their 10th consecutive victory in fitting fashion for a rivalry game littered with odd occurrences. 

The Cubs’ All-Star first baseman drew a walk-off walk against left-hander Zach Duke to earn the Cubs a 4-3 11-inning win over the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday night in front of 40,597 at Wrigley Field. Rizzo worked a 3-1 count against Duke, the former White Sox reliever, before taking a two-seam fastball home plate umpire Ron Kulpa ruled inside for ball four. 

Brooks Baseball’s pitch graph showed Duke’s pitch was in the strike zone, for what it’s worth. With Duke’s two-seam action tailing that pitch inside toward Rizzo’s hands — which are already on top of the plate with his crowding batting stance — the pitch may have looked more inside to Kulpa than it actually was. 

“It was a good pitch,” Rizzo said. “I thought it was a little in. I’m on top of the plate. I’m looking right there, so I’m probably swinging if it was something close to hit.”

Manager Joe Maddon wasn’t sure if Rizzo’s crowd-the-plate stance contributed to the call, but did allow for the possibility. 

“Umpires see things differently,” Maddon said. “He is on the plate and it can be difficult to see sometimes, even for the catcher.”  

But the walk-off walk on a close-at-worst pitch was hardly the only strange event on a muggy evening on Clark and Addison. 

There was Chris Coghlan trying to call for time, getting quick-pitched by Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez and still lacing a game-tying two-run single into right field in the sixth inning. Thirty-nine-year-old catcher David Ross followed that by laying down a two-out squeeze, with Martinez rushing an off-balance throw that pulled first baseman Matt Carpenter off the bag to put the Cubs temporarily ahead. 

Ross picked off Jedd Gyorko, whose slide didn’t come close to reaching the first base bag, for the first out of the seventh, and Coghlan and Addison Russell completed a picturesque relay to nail Carpenter at the plate to end the seventh. Aroldis Chapman retired the Cardinals in order in the ninth on three pitches. 

“He gets a steak dinner for that,” Maddon said.

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In the 11th, Mike Montgomery — who last pitched July 31 — loaded the bases when he walked Kolten Wong, who entered Thursday with the lowest OPS (.663) of any Cardinals player with more than 100 plate appearances. But Montgomery then struck out Carpenter, who has the highest OPS of any Cardinals player (.988), despite having to change signs with catcher Willson Contreras during the middle of the at-bat. 

“Big situation, you don’t want to do that, but I haven’t thrown to him a lot,” Montgomery said. “I think it’s good to do that and kind of slow it down a little bit.”

And during most of that nearly-disastrous top of the 11th, and throughout the bottom of the 11th, starter John Lackey was warming up in the Cubs’ bullpen, just as he did during that wild comeback win over the Seattle Mariners July 31 that started this 10-game winning streak. 

Jon Lester offered his take on the secret to the Cubs’ wild victories of late: “I guess just put Lackey in the bullpen and let him warm up.” 

The absurdity of Thursday’s game wound up working out in the Cubs’ favor, pushing them to a 13-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central. While St. Louis, which is now a half-game out of a wild card spot, has only managed to tread water recently, the Cubs are doing their best Katie Ledecky impression and putting a seemingly insurmountable gap between themselves and the rest of their divisional challengers. 

The Cubs were only 6 1/2 games ahead of the Cardinals when they fell behind the Mariners 6-0 after three innings July 31. The low-hanging narrative would be that from that point on, this team has rode a wave of momentum to this winning streak and massive NL Central lead. 

But that’s not how Lester views things from he and his teammates’ perch atop the major leagues. 

“I don’t feel like we need momentum,” Lester said. “I just feel like we’re a really solid team.” 

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

There may not be a player in baseball more exciting to watch than Javier Báez.

Whether at the plate, in the field or on the bases, Báez is a human highlight real. He’s one of the most powerful hitters in baseball; he has a cannon for an arm, exemplary defensive range and is a tagging maestro. He’s a dynamic baserunner who uses his elite baseball instincts to go station-to-station while magically avoiding tags along the way.

Yeah, there’s a reason Báez is known as “El Mago.” It’s not a matter of if he’ll make an incredible play each game, but a matter of when. Things come easy for the 27-year-old full of flair who makes the most difficult plays seem routine.

Báez is a career .270/.310/.484 hitter who’s hit 110 home runs in parts of six big-league seasons. One of those long balls came in his big-league debut (Aug. 5, 2014), a go-ahead blast against the Rockies in the 12th inning. The legend of El Mago was born.

Báez is the Cubs starting shortstop, though that hasn’t always been the case. Starlin Castro was the starter in 2014; Addison Russell claimed the title from Castro in the second half of 2015, holding it down until late in the 2018 season. Russell hit the injured list that August as the Cubs simultaneously acquired Daniel Murphy in an attempt to jump-start the offense.

By the time Russell returned, Báez was a clear-cut NL MVP candidate. The latter still bounced around the infield from time-to-time, but with Murphy entrenched at second, shortstop became Báez’s primary position. He’s been the starter ever since.

Báez has played 2,646 2/3 career innings at shortstop compared to 1,856 at second base (and 629 1/3 at third). He’s exclusively a shortstop these days, but the El Mago second base days aren’t forgotten.

Báez was the co-recipient of the 2016 NLCS MVP award (along with Jon Lester) and has started back-to-back All-Star Games (2018 at second, 2019 at shortstop). He was the runner-up for the 2018 NL MVP award, posting career highs across the board: .290/.326/.554, 34 homers, 111 RBIs, 129 OPS+.

And yet, it feels like Báez is only getting started. Nevertheless, his career to date has more than earned him a spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team at second base. With that, we'll leave you with this:

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

You saw this one coming, right?

As the Cubs’ longest tenure player, Anthony Rizzo was a shoo-in for this group. He hasn’t relinquished his starting first baseman job since making his Cubs debut in June 2012. The guy’s longevity alone is impressive.

But besides that, Rizzo has been a model of consistency during his time on the North Side. Since 2012, he’s hit 217 home runs (averaging 27 per season) and hit 32 three times from 2014-17. The lone exception? 2015, when he hit 31. So close…

As a Cub, Rizzo is a .277/.376/.496 hitter with a 132 OPS+. He produces at a high clip each season, whether he’s hitting third, cleanup or leadoff, all while simultaneously playing stellar defense. The 30-year-old is a three-time Gold Glove Award winner (2016, 2018-19).

Rizzo is the guy who comes up huge in key moments but will be there to address the media after tough losses. He’s the de facto captain of the Cubs, the guy who suffered a nasty ankle sprain in September that could have ended his regular season. Instead, he returned four days later for a key series against the rival Cardinals, as the Cubs were fighting to keep their October dreams alive.

When he’s not leading his team on the field, Rizzo is giving back to the community off of it. He’s one of the most charitable athletes in the world and recently raised $1.3 million for children’s cancer research at his “8th annual Walk-off for Cancer” in his home state of Florida.

Rizzo was the first building block of the Cubs core which snapped their infamous 108-year championship drought, but he’ll be remembered for more than that. He’s a leader on and off the field, the clear choice for starting first baseman on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Derrek Lee, Bryan LaHair