On the 54th day, Anthony Rizzo rested. Well, for at least most of it.
After appearing in the Cubs’ first 45 games, Rizzo was not in manager Joe Maddon’s starting lineup for the first time, taking in most of Friday’s 6-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field from an unfamiliar post – the dugout.
Maddon had been looking for an opportunity to rest Rizzo and based his decision – as he often tends to do – on past experience along with the gift of a day game immediately following a scheduled off-day.
“A lot of times the schedule tells you what to do,” Maddon said Friday morning. “You just gotta pay attention.”
But many hours later – after two rain delays and three Cubs home runs – Maddon admitted sitting Rizzo on Friday had less to do with strategy and more to do with listening not only to baseball’s marathon schedule, but to his trusty gut.
And on this day, Maddon – and his gut – seemed to made all the right moves.
Kris Bryant, proved to be a suitable fill-in for Rizzo at first before Rizzo was inserted in the ninth inning and ended the Cubs’ win by starting a game-ending double play.
Not to be outdone, Bryant crushed his 11th home run with a fifth-inning solo shot that cleared the left field bleachers and landed somewhere on Waveland Avenue.
For Maddon, who has a history of giving players a break either before or after a scheduled off-day, resting Rizzo after a 3-for-37, nine-game road stretch made sense before the Cubs began a stretch of 10 consecutive home games against the Phillies, Dodgers and Diamondbacks.
But Maddon had bigger plans beyond resting Rizzo. Maddon plugged Jorge Soler into the No. 4 hole for the day, saying the left fielder was the best candidate to tackle the role for the day.
In addition to liking the matchup Soler gave the Cubs against lefty Adam Morgan, Soler prevented the Phillies from pitching around Bryant, knowing Rizzo wasn’t there.
That too, seemed to work to perfection.
Soler drove in the Cubs’ first run with a RBI single before he crushed a solo homer off the video board in left field in the fourth. The homer snapped a 1-1 tie and kick-started a fourth-run inning that gave the Cubs and starter Jon Lester some breathing room.
It also allowed the struggling Soler to breathe a little easier.
“It feels really good, man,” Soler said through a team translator. “You hit it that far, it feels really good.”
Soler’s performance just happened to fall on a day when Maddon worked his magic on his defense. With Bryant at first, Javier Baez at third and Matt Szczur replacing the resting Jason Heyward in right field, all of the pieces fell into place despite a couple of uncharacteristic Cubs errors.
For his part, Bryant didn’t mind the change of scenery, having had a basic understanding of first base from playing the position for a short time in college and from throwing across the diamond to Rizzo so many times before. Knowing that Maddon had a plan that went well beyond who played where, Bryant took the temporary position switch in stride – just as he tends to do with everything else that surrounds his game.
“I like to be a baseball player,” Bryant said. “I guess this is another one of those situations where I get to do that.”
So for Bryant and the first-place Cubs, Friday turned out to be just another day at the office – even if it wasn’t for Rizzo.
Chalk one up for Joe Maddon’s gut.
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