PITTSBURGH — Is Anthony Rizzo the “greatest leadoff hitter of all-time,” as he claimed after the game Wednesday in New York?
He certainly looked the part again Friday against the Pirates when — in his third career game batting in the leadoff spot — he hit a ball over the fence leading off the first for the third consecutive game.
Of course, this being the 2017 Cubs with hitting fortunes so inglorious that Rizzo is batting leadoff at all, his home run — and spot in the record books — was denied.
Manager Joe Maddon was ejected after the call was overturned.
Had Rizzo been awarded the homer, he would have joined Orioles outfielder Brady Anderson (1996) among the only players to lead off three straight games with a home run.
“Anthony had a chance probably to go in the record books for all-time,” Maddon said.
Rizzo eventually walked in that leadoff plate appearance — preserving his perfect 5.000 career OPS leading off games — as the Cubs scored three to take the lead. And even after they blew the lead in the sixth, they came back in the ninth to beat the Pirates 9-5.
Rizzo’s spot came back around for a fifth time in the ninth, with the bases loaded, and he singled home two runs that turned out to be the difference-makers when the Pirates scored in the bottom of the ninth.
“There’s that leadoff spot coming up with the bases loaded. Not a bad thing,” Maddon said. “That’s my point. He’s a leadoff hitter, but he’s been coming up in a lot of crucial moments in the latter part of the game.”
Three games into this lark, or experiment, or whatever you want to call it, a wobbly Cubs lineup has scored 27 runs on the road and won two of the three games.
Nobody expected it to last more than a few games at the most when Maddon installed Rizzo as his seventh leadoff man Tuesday in an effort to ignite a “spark.”
Now where does it end? Is it reasonable to think that a power hitter with a .365 career on-base percentage could better serve the team for an extended stretch in the leadoff spot instead of his usual No. 3 spot?
“I play first base. I don’t make those decisions,” said Rizzo, who clearly is enjoying it.
“I’m statistically the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time,” he proclaimed after his second game leading off Wednesday. “I’d like to retire there and just talk smack to everyone that tries to do it.”
If Rizzo is asked to be the team’s GLHOAT for an extended stretch, these guys are probably in trouble. That’s the only reason he was needed for that “spark” in the first place.
“If you don’t put him there, he doesn’t get pitched to at all,” Maddon said, looking at a lineup that was without Kris Bryant because of a scheduled day off. “So let him go up there, let him make his impact, let’s see how it plays out, get some of these other guys frisky again and move it back around.
“But for right now, he’s loving it, and he’s done a great job and we’ve been scoring runs.”
Said Rizzo: “It would have been a lot better if that first call was right.”
The problems in the first started when the Pirates objected to first-base umpire Clint Fagan’s fair call. After the umpire crew huddled, they inexplicably decided to change the call to foul, and then initiated a crew-chief video review after Maddon requested it.
The result was a “call stands” ruling, which by definition means the replay was inconclusive. That set Maddon off.
“I would have been fine with ‘confirmed,’ ” he said. “It ‘stands,’ which means they couldn’t tell. If it had remained a home run, it would have been a home run.
“My argument was based on procedure, period. Period. And I totally disagree with the procedure.”
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