When Cubs manager Joe Maddon saw his MVP-candidate first baseman jump onto the narrow ledge of the wall in foul territory trying to make a catch, he had only one thought:
“Just that he would stick the landing,” Maddon said. “I was hoping for at least a 9.5 from the Luxembourg judge.”
Anthony Rizzo used the rolled-up tarp on his dismount Tuesday night during the second game of the Cubs’ doubleheader sweep of the Brewers after he made the catch that electrified the crowd – maybe even his best catch yet.
That he’s starting to make a habit of using brick walls, tarps and folding seats as props for some of his fielding tricks only underscores why Maddon calls him a “no doubt” Gold Glove candidate on a team that some defensive metrics say is the best in fielding team in the majors.
And why he might have his best shot yet at his first career Gold Glove this year.
“I was surprised myself that I caught that, to be honest,” Rizzo said after providing the highlight reel for a night of Cubs pitching and defense in 4-0 and 4-1 wins.
In his 14th inning of a long day of baseball, with one out in the fifth inning of a one-run game, tracked the ball to the wall, looked up, jumped on the ledge near trap, then leaned over two rows of seats to make the catch – then tip-toed along the all to keep his balance until jumping back onto the field.
After the catch, a chant of “MVP!” “MVP!” “MVP!” rose from the crowd.
“It was unbelievable,” said starter Jason Hammel (13-5), who also was the starting pitcher when Rizzo made a similar play a few feet away a year ago this week to steal an at-bat from the Brewers’ Ryan Braun — standing on the tarp, stepping on a seat and making the catch before losing balance.
“I remember the last one like it was yesterday and that one was even better,” Hammel said.
“Rizzo’s Gold Glove caliber at first base, there’s no doubt in my mind,” Maddon said.
Rizzo also had the defensive play of Tuesday’s opener, knocking down a shot near the line by Kirk Nieuwenhuis, then crawling after it as it rolled into foul territory, to grab and throw from the ground to pitcher Trevor Cahill. Cahill stretched to drag his foot across the bag just as he caught the ball on the run.
Maddon has managed or coached Gold Glove first basemen J.T. Snow, Darin Erstad, and Carlos Pena, and says of Rizzo: “He’s right up at the top of the list.”
Rizzo said he thinks about the Gold Glove. “It’s something that all of us infielders are [striving for], and none of us have cracked it yet,” he said. “We’re hopefully on our way.”
Finishing touch for Hammel?
Cubs starter Jason Hammel, who has focused since the end of last year on second-half fades in recent seasons, suddenly looks like the best second-half pitcher in baseball.
With seven shutdown innings in Tuesday’s nightcap, he ran his career-best winning streak to six consecutive starts – making him 6-0 with a 0.95 ERA since the All-Star break (38 innings).
Hammel (13-5) hasn’t allowed a run in August, running his scoreless innings streak to 22, and on Tuesday had as many hits in three trips to the plate (two) as he allowed to the Brewers in 24 – leading the Cubs to their 16th win in 19 games.
“He was really, really good again, and it’s been fun to watch,” Maddon said.
In their 14 games this month, Cubs starters are 10-0 with a 1.12 ERA.
Notes: Reliever Pedro Strop, who on Friday underwent surgery for a meniscus tear in his left knee, was walking without crutches Tuesday. …Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun left the nightcap in the fourth inning with a left knee injury after sliding into the wall chasing a foul fly ball. The severity was not immediately known. Braun walked without help, limping slightly, as he left field. … Brewers Game 2 starting pitcher Chase Anderson suffered a quadriceps bruise when he took a Kris Bryant line drive off his left leg in the first inning, and left the game. … If the Cubs were wrong about Joe Nathan when they released the former All-Star closer, it could be a costly mistake since Nathan signed Tuesday with the potential playoff-rival Giants, his original team.