The old tip drill on a play veteran catcher David Ross had never seen before helped the Cubs’ defense rebound on Sunday night from a sluggish performance in Game 4.
One night after a normally elite defensive unit gave the game away, the Cubs returned to their historically dominant selves and it all began with Anthony Rizzo’s circus catch off the glove of Ross near the dugout.
The rest of the defense seemingly fed off Rizzo’s fantastic catch and turned in several more sterling efforts in a 3-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians in Game 5 of the World Series that extended the Cubs’ season for at least one more day. The Cubs will likely need many more defensive gems if they’re to rebound from a 3-2 series deficit when the Series continues with Game 6 at Cleveland at 7:08 p.m. CST on Tuesday.
“(Rizzo) was the hero for us,” Ross said. “I was like, ‘Hey, I was just making you look good.’
“That was a really cool moment. I’m just trying to get outs. Every pitch and every out is so big, so anything that’s even close, you wanna give it the effort and not leave anything for chance and Rizz picked me up right there.”
Each out in October seems to carry with it a significant payload -- when shifted the right way, it can mean everything to a team. Conversely, a mistake can quickly send things in the wrong direction.
The Cubs discovered that in World Series Game 4 when a pair of second-inning errors by third baseman Kris Bryant led to a run that put Cleveland ahead 2-1 and they never gave it back.
On the verge of elimination in front of a loud, nerve-wracked crowd, the Cubs had little room for mistakes on Sunday night. For a brief second, it appeared they were headed for a big gaffe.
Cleveland’s No. 5 hitter Carlos Santana hit a foul pop up behind the plate on which Ross appeared to have a bead at the dugout railing. But thanks to an icy, whipping wind that prevailed all evening, the ball drifted and Ross had to lunge over a camera on the railing only to have the ball pop up into the air off the top of his glove.
Fortunately for him, Rizzo efficiently covered 112 feet, according to MLB.com, and arrived in time to tip the ball back into the air with his bare left hand before he hauled it in with his glove.
“The ball was moving so much up there, it was swirling,” Rizzo said. “I just told him I couldn’t call it, that’s how focused I was on that ball. And he’s going for it until I called him off.”
Said Ross: “I didn't know he was there. I was trying to catch it. I knew the wind was doing some crazy things tonight. … I'm surprised he didn't jump up on the rail and do a little balancing act.”
Rizzo saved the theatrics for Jason Heyward, Addison Russell and Bryant.
Two batters after the catch, Bryant stopped Cleveland from a potential rally starter with a fantastic diving stop and throw (Rizzo made one of several nice scoops) on Brandon Guyer’s hot shot.
An inning later, Heyward raced over and leapt up on the brick wall to make a grab of Trevor Bauer’s foul ball only for the wind to blow it back. Despite the gust, Heyward hauled it in for the second out.
The wind continued to affect the ball all evening. Ben Zobrist also made a long run and grab in foul territory for the second out of the eighth inning with a runner in scoring position.
“(The wind) was kind of funky,” Heyward said of his grab. “But off the bat, that ball was going into the stands and heading that direction and then when I got to the wall and was waiting on it to come down, it had like a serious cut back towards the field.”
The Cubs also made a series of nice plays in between the Heyward and Zobrist grabs.
Ross jumped on a nice bunt by Jason Kipnis to start the fourth inning and fired to first in time to thwart his attempt for a hit. With a man on second base in the fifth inning, Russell quickly scooped up Jose Ramirez’s grounder and under-armed his throw to first just in time to nab the speedy runner (Rizzo made a nice scoop on that play, too). And Javier Baez helped quell a potential sixth-inning rally with his patented swipe tag as he helped Ross catch Francisco Lindor stealing second base to end the inning.
Those efforts proved critical for a unit that had 31 more Defensive Runs Saved than the next best team in baseball, according to fangraphs.com.
“One of the best in the game,” center fielder Dexter Fowler said. “We’ve got a few Gold Glove nominee and Gold Glovers out there.
“Guys are going to make mistakes. That’s what happens. It’s a long season. You want to make every play, but all that’s never going to happen. To have them in there making the key outs today is awesome.”