Cubs defend Anthony Rizzo's controversial slide

Cubs defend Anthony Rizzo's controversial slide

Anthony Rizzo's big day at the plate was only overshadowed by his play at the dish.

The Cubs first baseman got the scoring started on Memorial Day with a solo blast in the top of the second inning, one of three hits on the afternoon as he continues to sizzle in May.

But everybody will be talking about his slide at the plate in the eighth inning, in which he took out Pirates catcher Elias Diaz as he was trying to turn a double play.

Rizzo came barreling into home plate and as Diaz received the throw, he stepped off home plate, trying to fire to first to get Chris Gimenez on a double play. Rizzo slid into Diaz, leading the throw into right field and the Cubs were permitted a pair of runs:

In real time, it doesn't look that bad, but the replays and different angles are a little head-scratching:

The umpires huddled up and ruled the slide legal and both Cubs runs were able to stay on the board. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was furious and immediately tossed for arguing the call and subsequent replay.

In an interview with ESPN's Jesse Rogers on the ABC broadcast immediately after the game, Rizzo defended the slide.

"Just playing hard," Rizzo said. "Never want to try to hurt someone. They're playing as hard as they can over there, we're playing as hard as we can over here. You gotta break up a double play. Fortunately, we broke it up, everyone comes out healthy, but I thought it was a good play."

After the game, Cubs manager Joe Maddon passionately backed Rizzo (h/t Jesse Rogers, again):

"That's how you should teach your kids to slide and break up a double play — the catcher's gotta clear a path," Maddon said. "You have to teach proper technique. He's gotta get out farther, he's gotta keep his foot on the plate clear because that's absolutely what can happen. And you know why? Because it happened to me and the same thing happened — the ball went down the right field corner. My concern there was that they were going to attempt to review it in the same way you review it at second base, whereas there's no base sticking up that you can hold on to.

"This is tough on umpires. Don't get me wrong. I'm not blaming the umpires at all. The umpires are awesome; they handled it perfectly. I'm the one that was being the jerk. But when that happens, if that play gets turned over, there's no base sticking up, they're saying something about diverting to hit the catcher purposely or cleats in the air. All kinds of innate stuff. You're teaching the fans the wrong things. You're worried about not getting people hurt but then Rizzo — in the eyes of the Pittsburgh fans — did something wrong or dirty and that is absolutely incorrect."

While the slide was legal — Rizzo could easily reach home plate — it's still a scary play, but one that's been around in baseball for years. Middle infielders have to deal with similar slides near second base all the time. Diaz was also healthy enough to remain in the game.

It's also fair that the Pirates and their fans (who booed Rizzo on his next trip to the plate) would be unhappy with the outcome on multiple levels. Cubs personnel and fans would undoubtedly have an issue if Willson Contreras was taken out in a similar fashion.

This isn't the first time these two teams have had a slide controversy on their hands. Remember, it was Chris Coghlan who slid into Jung Ho Kang at second base in September 2015, breaking Kang's leg.

It's also not the first time Rizzo has had an aggressive, controversial slide at home plate, with a similar issue coming last June that was ruled illegal:

On social media, many Cubs fans rushed to Rizzo's defense while others acknowledged they felt weird about the slide even though they support Rizzo:

The Cubs went on to win the game 7-0 and Rizzo had 3 RBI in the contest.

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

For the second time in 1998, Sosa went back-to-back games with multiple home runs. After going yard twice on June 19 of that season, Slammin' Sammy again sent two balls into the bleachers on June 20.

He singlehandedly beat the Phillies that night, driving in 5 runs in a 9-4 Cubs victory.

But that wasn't the most impressive feat of the day from Sosa. His second homer was actually measured at a whopping 500 feet! It was the longest of the season, but not the longest of his career. On June 24, 2003, Sosa hit a homer at Wrigley measured at 511 feet.

The back-to-back big games raised Sosa's season OPS to 1.083 with a ridiculous .685 slugging percentage. He began June 1998 with a .608 slugging percentage.

Fun fact: Kerry Wood struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings on June 20, 1998 to pick up his 7th big-league victory. As Wood marched to the National League Rookie of the Year that season, he finished with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in only 166.2 innings for a career-high 12.6 K/9 rate.