SAN FRANCISCO – Anthony Rizzo had been a no-show to this Cubs postseason party, and that wasn’t a good thing for a team struggling to score runs.
Manager Joe Maddon had a suggestion for getting Rizzo get into the swing of things: Take some pitches.
As it turned out, Rizzo’s walk against Javier Lopez in the ninth inning, immediately following Kris Bryant’s leadoff single, set the table for the Cubs’ stunning four-run rally which propelled them to a 6-5 win and NLDS series-clinching victory over the Giants.
The Cubs’ MVP candidate and No. 3 hitter who was 6-for-32 with two homers and two RBI in the Wild Card, NLDS and NLCS in 2015 and was 0-for-13 going into Game 4, walked twice and singled — one of only two hits against Giants dominating lefty starter Matt Moore.
“It’s just baseball,’’ Rizzo was saying the night before, shrugging off an 0-for-6 night with two strikeouts. “Obviously not the best three games to start off, but I’ll get back [at it].’’
Maddon came to Rizzo’s defense before the game, saying Giants pitchers were “targeting his patience” at the plate.
“He walked. He walked,” Maddon said afterward. “That’s it. When guys are struggling, more than likely they are expanding their strike zone.”
Rizzo took ball four from Lopez on a 3-2 count to bring the tying run to the plate. Ben Zobrist doubled, and the rally was on.
“It was huge,” Zobrist said of Rizzo’s walk. “It’s easy for somebody to do too much in that situation. Especially our two big guns there starting off that inning, one getting a knock and the other a walk and just passing the baton to me. It’s big because you feel like no one of us has to do it all, just the next good thing and pass it on.”
Results are magnified in short series, and through the first three games against the Giants, Rizzo’s signature TV moment was that exuberant free-for-all in the middle of the Cubs dugout after pitcher Jake Arrieta hit a three-run homer against Madison Bumgarner to give the Cubs a 3-0 lead. Problem is, Arrieta and fellow Cubs pitchers Kyle Hendricks (two-run single in Game 2) and Travis Wood (homer in Game 2) combined to drive in six of the Cubs’ 11 runs in the first three games.
After Rizzo’s walk, Zobrist doubled in Bryant, Willson Contreras singled in Rizzo and Zobrist and Javier Baez singled in Jason Heyward.
“Bryant with the perfectly placed hit and Rizz gets the big walk to get it going, and of course Zobrist gets the big blow,” Maddon said in the Cubs champagne soaked clubhouse.
“[Rizzo] got the job done when we needed it most,’ Dexter Fowler said. ‘He’s been doing that all year.”Aroldis Chapman did the rest with a shut-down ninth.
“We were confident we could get it done but we still had to execute,” Zobrist said. “We needed some breaks, too. The walk by Lopez to Rizz was big and I got in a good count with Romo to get a good pitch to hit. And there may be a little apprehension on that side because they haven’t done a good job with that.
“We felt we could at least put some pressure on and once you do the crowd starts getting quiet and their anxiety goes up a little and our confidence goes up as the inning goes on.”
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