PHOENIX – The Cubs made two more errors, gave up three unearned runs, struck out 13 times, including six with men on base – and then watched Anthony Rizzo make it all go away Saturday night in a 9-6 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Struggling for a week, Rizzo drove in six runs with a bases-clearing double the opposite way in the fifth and the go-ahead three-run homer near the swimming pool in right-center off Enrique Burgos to even the series heading into Sunday’s finale of a two-city trip.
“At the end of the day, Rizzo took care of business,” said starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, who might have had a victory if not for three unearned runs scoring after second-baseman Addison Russell’s fifth-inning error. “He put us all on his back and carried us to victory. And that’s what I expect from time to time; he’s our best player. And he’s elevated his game to a new level this year.”
Rizzo was just 1-for-his-last-16 before driving a high fly to left in the fifth inning that missed being a grand slam only because of the manufactured character in the Chase Field wall, which angles into a sudden deep corner for a few feet near the line.
“Yeah, that was bad aiming,” said Rizzo, who initially thought he had the slam. “That’s what happens though when you get into these little – I don’t want to say funks – but that’s what happens.
“Then the last one I was wasn’t sure, because then I was questioning my power. But luckily that one got out.”
The six RBIs matched Rizzo’s career high (also in 2013 against the Pirates) – coming after the Cubs had gone six straight games with no more than four runs in a game, and only one of those.
“It’s been the battle of the All-Star first basemen the last two nights,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, referring to the Diamondbacks’ two-time All-Star Paul Goldschmidt, who hit a tying homer in Friday’s 10th inning to help beat the Cubs.
“They got us [Friday] night; Rizz got them tonight,” Maddon added. “We needed that. The big hit’s not been readily forthcoming recently, and to do that was spectacular. Rizz has high standards for himself, and he came through tonight, and it was definitely needed.”
In fact, the Cubs scored more runs in the final two innings alone Saturday than any of those previous five games — with Jorge Soler delivering a tying, two-out, two-run double the opposite way to right in the eighth inning.
Rizzo, a first-time All-Star last year, is having an even better season this year, hitting .322 with a team-leading nine homers and tying Kris Bryant for the team lead in RBIs (29).
He and Bryant form one of the top middle-of-the-order tandems in the league, and whether it’s Bryant, the team’s newfound competitive ability or something else, Rizzo doesn’t seem sure why his performance seems to be on the rise so far this year.
“I come in every day just trying to be the best version of myself that I can be,” he said, “and just take care of business every day.”
But he’s not denying it’s different this year.
“It’s just fun coming to the park every day,” he said. “It’s always fun coming to the park, but coming I with all the guys, this group of guys, is awesome. We’re really young, we have a lot of fun, on and off the field. We’re like a band of brothers really.”
Maddon only saw glimpses of Rizzo, 25, in recent years, managing in the American League.
“I’m late to the party,” Maddon said. “Seeing him on a daily basis, it’s pretty impressive. He’s in that really elite group of baseball players, regarding how they work an at-bat. And then on top of that, he’s a very good defender, too. He’s a really complete player.
“And now he’s turning into a good base runner. He’s really elevated his game on all levels.”