MILWAUKEE – August is supposed to be the month baseball players dread.
“This is the tough month to get through,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Everybody gets a little bit fatigued, mentally and physically.”
Unless you’re Anthony Rizzo.
“I feel good,” the Cubs slugger said after he homered in his fourth consecutive game to pace the Cubs to a 4-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on Saturday night. “I’ve been looking forward to August all year to be honest. We’re home for a long time; it’s hot in Chicago in August, and I really enjoy the hot weather.
“And we know what can happen at Wrigley when it warms up. I’ve been saying that all along to everyone: We’re going to have a big August as a team. And we’re off to a good start tonight.”
Thanks in large part to Rizzo, whose home run streak is the longest for a Cub since Sammy Sosa homered in five straight in 1998 – and halfway to the major-league record held by three players (Dale Long, 1956; Don Mattingly, 1987; Ken Griffey Jr., 1993).
“Those are the kind of moments that can really get you on the roll that you’re looking for,” manager Joe Maddon said of the two-out rally that Rizzo capped with his three-run homer in the third.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Cubs also won for the fourth consecutive game – a streak that put them on the brink of catching the Giants in the race for the National League’s second wild-card spot until the Giants’ late-inning comeback win against Texas Saturday night.
Rizzo, who had been slumping, suddenly is 8-for-14 starting with the first homer in the streak, Wednesday at home – driving in nine of the Cubs’ 15 runs in that span.
“He’s been leading us – the last four games for sure,” said starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks (5-5), who pitched into the eighth inning to earn his first victory since July 5. “Hitting home runs, playing defense, doing whatever it takes.
“He’s one of the guys in the middle of the order we need that from, so it’s been fun to watch.”
The Rizzo streak and winning streak coincides with the passing of Friday’s trade deadline, and acquisitions of starting pitcher Dan Haren and hard-throwing reliever Tommy Hunter.
Haren, acquired from the Marlins for two minor leaguers, arrived to join the team about game time Saturday, and he makes his Cubs debut in a start Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
Hunter, acquired from Baltimore for outfielder Junior Lake, wasted no time – and held nothing back – making his debut with one out and a runner at third in the ninth inning Saturday, the Cubs leading by three.
After a first-pitch breaking ball that the Brewers’ Jean Segura grounded to second for a run-scoring out, Hunter unleashed a fastball to Hernan Perez that registered a 99 on the scoreboard radar display.
He got Perez on a game-ending fly to right with the next pitch.
“I’ve seen him uup there, but that kind of shocked me just a little bit,” Maddon said of the 99-mph pitch – 2-3 mph more than he’s used to seeing from Hunter’s fastball. “That’s probably a little bit of adrenaline going on right there.”
Hunter: “Oh, yeah. Little stomach [flutters]. First two pitches I throw warming up go to the backstop, and then [Segura] swings at the first pitch. Thank you.
“Get the first one out of the way, and hopefully some of the jitters go away and then come back out.
“Winning – it’s fun, man.”
Before Hunter’s heat-seeking performance, right-fielder Jorge Soler made the defensive play of the game, leaping at the wall to catch Khris Davis’ drive just above the yellow padding to rob him of a two-run homer that would have made it a one-run game with nobody out.
“Huge,” Maddon said. “Difference maker. Big difference maker.”
With the calendar turning to August, two pitchers added for the stretch run at the deadline and the team on a mini-streak, Hendricks said emotionally and energetically, “Everything’s high. We’re definitely confident. …
“We really feel confident now against whoever we play. We’ve just got to keep that rolling through August and September.”