Earlier this season, Anthony Rizzo was nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award, which celebrates players who best represent the game of baseball through extraordinary character, talent, and abilities both on and off the field.
In last night’s Game 4 of the NLCS, Rizzo demonstrated all of the above.
First, the mushy stuff. After working the count up to 3-1, in the top of the fifth inning, Anthony Rizzo took what he thought was ball four of the at-bat. Then, he did the thing that every player does when they’re looking for a call to go their way: act like it did.
Rizzo dropped his bat and began trotting down to first base like it was business as usual. Unfortunately, the home plate umpire, Angel Hernandez, didn’t quite see things the same way, and called strike two. Rizzo ultimately did something awesome in the at bat (we’re getting there), but he felt bad about seemingly “showing-up” the umpire.
So, later in the game, Rizzo (being the exemplary person that he is) went up to Hernandez to apologize for his actions earlier in the game. FS1’s home plate mic caught the conversation, and the broadcast shared it with us:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) October 20, 2016
As the Dodgers were meeting on the mound, Rizzo went up to Hernandez and apologetically took the blame for the non-ball call and walk down to first in his previous at-bat. Hernandez, to his credit, was exceptionally understandable. “I understand, don’t worry. And you know what’s best of it? You come back and you tell me that. That’s how good of a guy you are. You kidding me? Thank you.”
There was no need for Rizzo to do what he did, because, like I said, it happens all the time. Players aren’t always trying to show-up the umpire, they’re just doing their best to sell the call their working for – just like the pitchers, catchers, and anyone else. Rizzo, however, is just all class, and continues to remind Chicago why we love our unofficial captain so much.
That said, Rizzo might really owe Hernandez a “Thank you!” instead of an apology, because later in that non-walk at-bat, he broke out of his slump in a big, big way.
After two straight strikeouts to begin the game, Rizzo was probably dying to take that walk, but because Hernandez called it a strike, he had a couple of more opportunities to do some damage … and luckily, he did. After sending one about 350 feet foul down the right field line a few pitches later (just narrowly missing a home run), Rizzo cranked his first hit of the night – which also happened to be his first home run of the 2016 postseason:
The ball came off the bat of Rizzo at 106 MPH (26 degree launch angle) for a 401 foot home run to right-center field. It gave the Cubs a 5-0 lead, but arguably did a lot more than that for Rizzo. Following this hit, Rizzo broke out of his slump, adding a two-run, line-drive single in the 6th and another line drive single in the 7th.
Suddenly, his NLCS narrative has changed quite dramatically:
Anthony Rizzo is batting .250/.333/.438 with a Home Run and a Stolen Base in the NLCS against the Dodgers.
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) October 20, 2016
And although we, he, the Cubs, and even the Dodgers know how good of a hitter Anthony Rizzo is, sometimes a slump can weigh heavily on the mind. It’s never smart baseball to read too much into a poor results small sample, but you can imagine how much freer Rizzo felt after sending that ball into the stands of Dodger Stadium.
Actually, you don’t have to imagine anything, because when Rizzo returned to the bench, he gave his buddy Kris Bryant the most genuine, happy, and clearly relieved hug I think I’ve ever seen:
— CSN Chicago (@CSNChicago) October 20, 2016
But he didn’t do it alone.
As we (painfully) knew, Anthony Rizzo was 2-28 with nine strikeouts heading into that fateful at-bat in the fifth inning, and he was searching for anything to get him going. For example, Rizzo even tried switching bats in the ninth inning of Game 3 – a move that … sorta worked out, as he turned a very weak roller into an infield hit, shattering his bat in the process:
Szczur said Rizzo used his bat last night for broken bat single and went back to his own for 2 Ks tonight. 3rd AB, walks up with Szczur bat.
— jon greenberg (@jon_greenberg) October 20, 2016
After returning back to a bat of his own for the first two (strikeout) plate appearances of Game 4, Rizzo went back Szczur’s bat for his appearance in the fifth. Szczur knew what was coming. “I knew he had it when he got in the box and I looked at Tommy La Stella and said, ‘Watch, he’s gonna get a knock right now.'” Szczur was right. Rizzo sent that home run into the stands, got his game rolling, and helped the Cubs even the series back up 2-2.
That sure was some night for the Cap.