Anthony Rizzo went with his gut.
The way the Cubs first baseman tells it, he turned to Kris Bryant before the game Saturday, Bryant’s first back from a right oblique injury, and asked:
“Hey, you trust me, right?”
Then he led Bryant over get Cubs quality assurance coach Mike Napoli’s two gold chains.
“There’s some magic in there,” said Rizzo.
Sure enough, Bryant delivered the Cubs’ biggest hit in a 9-5 loss to the White Sox on Saturday. But the game’s result was secondary to two other developments. First of all, the Cubs clinched the division thanks to the Cardinals' loss the same day. Perhaps just as importantly, Bryant went 2-for-4 with an opposite-field single, grand slam and line out.
If Saturday was a preview of things to come for Bryant, the Cubs offense is in good shape heading into the playoffs. Even if it’s not, the Cubs are better with him back in the lineup.
“Those are the swings we know he’s capable of having, and the at-bats,” Cubs manager David Ross said.
The Cubs had a backup plan to get Bryant – and others who wanted it – live at-bats before the playoffs began, even if Bryant couldn’t return for this weekend’s Crosstown Series. He left Monday’s game at Pittsburgh with right oblique tightness. In a snakebit season, Bryant (.205 batting average) has never quite settled into a rhythm at the plate as he’s dealt with various injuries to his left elbow, wrist and ring finger.
But Bryant returned in time to get in-game at-bats Saturday.
Bryant isn’t like Rizzo, who has used his “Tony Two Chains” alter ego, with slicked-back hair and no undershirt, to lighten the mood at different junctures in the season. Bryant said he isn’t a “jewelry guy.”
“But I’ll do whatever works for the team,” he said.
With two gold chains around his neck and his pants pulled up to the knee, Bryant smacked a single through the right side of the infield in his first at-bat Saturday. That hit came in the second inning – Bryant was batting fifth for just the second time this season – and was the first base knock of the game.
Bryant later scored on a throwing error as the White Sox botched a double-play opportunity.
The next time Bryant stepped into the batter’s box, the stakes were higher.
The Cubs had loaded the bases in the third inning, but the two batters in front of Bryant hadn’t found a way to score any of those baserunners.
Willson Contreras chopped a ground ball to the right side of the field, but the ball bounced over White Sox first baseman José Abreu’s glove and hit Rizzo as he ran to second. Dead ball. Rizzo was out, and the rest of the Cubs runners returned to their bases.
Then, Jason Heyward struck out.
So, Bryant came to plate with the bases loaded and two outs. The Cubs’ track record was not on his side – the team entered play batting just .171 with the bags packed and two outs.
The first pitch was a slider, diving into the middle of the strike zone.
“When he flips in a slider that he probably didn’t want to throw middle-in, sometimes you just see it and you just swing,” Bryant said. “It kind of falls into your barrel.”
Bryant crushed that pitch down the left field line, just barely fair, to give the Cubs a 5-2 lead.
“I feel like I’ve been waiting all year for one like that to fall right into my barrel,” Bryant said. “That felt very good, and hopefully I’ve got a lot more of those over the next month here.”