PITTSBURGH — The league couldn’t stop him, nor could booing Pittsburgh Pirate fans, as Chicago Cubs star Anthony Rizzo is finally heating up while leading the Cubs to their season high in games over .500.
Rizzo was on base four times for the second straight night just hours after learning from MLB brass that his eighth-inning slide at home plate in Monday’s game was deemed illegal. The result was a chorus of boos every time he came to the plate Tuesday. He responded in kind with a double, a home run and two walks.
“It feels good to do that,” Rizzo said after the Cubs’ 8-6 win. “You have to cancel out the outside noise at all times, good or bad … The fans here will always give it to you. We’ve had some fun games here, some fun times playing the Pirates. Not too surprised.”
His manager said Rizzo might attain “Jake Arrieta status,” in reference to the former Cub’s penchant for tormenting the Pirates, especially in the 2015 wild-card game at PNC Park. Rizzo doesn’t mind playing the villain, but Joe Maddon isn’t hearing any of it.
“The moment it [the slide] happened, I thought Rizz would be looked at in an unfavorable way, which is absolutely unfair,” Maddon said. “Most people will tell you what they’ve heard, not what they think.”
Rizzo added: “I play good, hard baseball my entire career. I do good things off the field. I do a lot of things in the clubhouse, so I’m not too worried about it [my reputation].”
The controversial slide is small potatoes compared to the more important storyline: Rizzo is back to his old self at the plate, and the team is benefiting. The Cubs have scored four or more runs in nine of their past 11 games, and Rizzo is hitting .357 with a .490 on-base percentage in that time. He had at least one hit in each game. It’s a far cry from his first six weeks, when he struggled to get to .200.
“You feel more relaxed,” Rizzo said of his hot streak. “That’s the biggest key for anyone, getting to be relaxed … Gripping the bat a little less tight than I was a couple weeks ago.”
Rizzo claims he has changed nothing and his prep work is the same, so maybe it’s that his absurdly low batting average on balls in play is finally catching up — in a good way. Maddon can sense something brewing, as the Cubs are seven games over .500 for the first time this season and getting closer to first place.
“Good at-bats, good defense, he’s constantly talking to guys,” Maddon said of his star. “I love that. He can chirp, he can chirp, in a good way.”
His bat can chirp a little, too.