Anthony Rizzo leads off — then tees off to ignite Cubs’ rout of Mets
NEW YORK — As soon as Anthony Rizzo found out he was leading off Tuesday for the first time in his career, he texted the leadoff man the Cubs have missed all year, Dexter Fowler.
“I told him I’m the best leadoff hitter in the game today,” Rizzo said. “He goes, ‘Yeah, you’re right, because I’m hitting second [for the Cardinals].’ ’’
Then Rizzo — for at least one sweltering night — made the Cubs forget about all their leadoff woes since Fowler left as a free agent.
“Hopefully, it’s 1-0 by the time the game starts,” Rizzo said.
It took all of two pitches.
After a ball, Rizzo rocket-launched Zack Wheeler’s second pitch over the Mets’ mechanical apple in center field for a 462-foot homer that ignited the Cubs’ most impressive offensive game of the season.
Three hours and five Cubs home runs later, they had a 14-3 victory at Citi Field, and Rizzo had a new spot in the order until further notice.
“You know what, let’s go on a run now,” said Rizzo, who added a bases-loaded walk in a seven-run second inning — just ahead of Ian Happ’s grand slam — and doubled home a run in the third.
“No matter what, we just want to keep winning,” added Rizzo, who has lobbied for years to bat leadoff (and pitch and play in the outfield). “This could hopefully be the start of something, but it’s one game. You can’t ride a roller coaster that hard on it.”
Especially when the entire season has been nothing but a roller-coaster ride of up-and-down starting pitching and up-and-mostly-down hitting.
The big output — which exceeded the Cubs’ run production in their previous five games combined — helped snap a nine-game road losing streak and a seven-game skid at Citi Field that included two playoff losses in 2015.
“They all looked better,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Obviously, Rizzo set the tone.”
Maddon went to his seventh leadoff man of the season on the same day he made his annual visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, near the team hotel.
But the inspiration was less divine than it was desperate — or at least a what-have-they-got-to-lose crapshoot.
“I wanted to give it a roll,” said Maddon, who also had committed to a day off for Ben Zobrist because of nagging soreness in Zobrist’s left wrist. “Right now, the fact we’re not hitting like we can, just see if he gets up there and provides a spark somehow.”
Rizzo will be back in the leadoff spot for the series finale against Matt Harvey, said Maddon — and, presumably, as long as the numbers on the dice keep producing.
“My reaction? ‘Why not?’ ’’ said Jon Lester (4-4), who rode the huge run support and seven strong innings to his 150th career win.
“Anything to kind of get us going. And he did.”
Lester was frustrated at giving up the tying run in the first, but allowed only three hits in six scoreless innings after that.
And he downplayed the 150-win milestone. He’s one of only eight active pitchers with that many victories.
“The personal stuff is always cool, whatever,” he said, “but I want to win for the Cubs. And that was a big one for us tonight on a lot of levels. That was a big boost in this clubhouse.”
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