PITTSBURGH — The Cubs could have mailed one in Monday. Coming off a victory Sunday night against the Giants at Wrigley Field and a 4 a.m. arrival at their hotel, they might have been listless, emotionless, useless.
But Anthony Rizzo wouldn’t let that happen. He homered in the second inning, drove in two more runs in the ninth and caused controversy in between as the Cubs took the opener of a three-game series 7-0 against the Pirates.
Make a mental note of Rizzo’s slide into the right leg of catcher Elias Diaz in the eighth. After being forced out at home with the bases loaded, Rizzo slid feet first in a path toward Diaz that took him a couple of feet in front of the plate. Rizzo clipped Diaz’s back foot as the catcher was attempting to throw to first to double up Chris Gimenez. The throw sailed into right field, allowing a pair of runners behind Rizzo to score.
Diaz went down and writhed in pain. Replays flashed on the scoreboard above left field, angering fans, Pirates players and certainly Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who was ejected by plate umpire Bill Welke. Yet Welke’s initial ruling that it was a legal slide was upheld after a long review.
Tensions between the teams have risen again.
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‘‘I understand that there’s old-school baseball, but we’re not in old-school baseball anymore,’’ the 27-year-old Diaz told reporters through an interpreter. ‘‘I understand they called it a legal slide, but out of what I’ve been trained and what I’ve been told, that was not a legal slide. And I’m thinking of all the horrible things that could have happened in my career after that.’’
Hurdle, who has criticized Cubs catcher Willson Contreras and infielder Javy Baez already this season, has added first baseman Rizzo to his personal to-boo list.
‘‘It seems like we’ve just put ‘open season’ tags on catchers on a force play in front of home plate,’’ he said. ‘‘Our catcher makes the play just like he’s supposed to make it, and he gets wiped out.’’
But Cubs manager Joe Maddon was animated as the play was being reviewed, and he was only a tad less riled up in the visiting manager’s office after the game. He called it a ‘‘perfect play’’ by Rizzo.
‘‘My concern is that they’re teaching fans the wrong things because the fans’ reaction to Rizz the next time he came up indicates that they think he did something wrong,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘That’s how you should teach your kids to slide to break up a double play at home plate.’’
Rizzo batted again an inning later and laced a two-run single. Diaz reportedly said Rizzo ‘‘apologized’’ before digging in to hit. Rizzo described it differently, saying he asked Diaz if he was all right and let him know it was just a baseball play.
‘‘You had to go in and break the double play up,’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘Obviously, I’m not trying to hurt anyone. I’m happy that he’s all right because plays like that are scary. At the same time, you’ve got to play hard, and it was 100 percent [within] the rule. It’s not like I went in with my legs up, trying to crush his knee. I just went low.’’
On a day when the first team bus left for PNC Park a mere six hours after players were checked into their hotel rooms, the Cubs needed all the sparks they could get. They got a big one from left-hander Mike Montgomery, who delivered 5‰ innings of scoreless ball in his first start of the season. They got another one from Addison Russell, who hit a pinch-hit homer in the seventh to make it 3-0.
But Rizzo was the guy who made this game go — for better or, from the Pirates’ point of view, worse.
No time? No sleep? No problem.
‘‘Days like this, you just show up and play,’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘There’s nothing more to it.’’