Uh-oh, ‘Captain’: Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo leaves game after fouling ball off foot
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
MILWAUKEE — Oh, no. Not him. Not Anthony Rizzo.
For crying out loud, not the “Captain.”
Those sentiments instantly came to mind as Rizzo grimaced his way to first base in the opening inning of Tuesday’s 11-1 loss to the Brewers, having been hit on the top of his left foot by a pitch from Wade Miley.
True, nobody knows better than Rizzo what it’s like to catch the business end of a thrown baseball. But just because a guy seems to have an innate ability to shrug off the pain, that doesn’t mean an HBP won’t be his ticket to the DL one of these days.
As if one sore foot wasn’t enough, Rizzo fouled a ball off his right foot in his second at-bat. X-rays were negative, but the first baseman left the game with a contusion in the sixth inning, replaced by Victor Caratini.
Manager Joe Maddon pronounced Rizzo “good to go” for Wednesday’s series finale.
Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward, Brandon Morrow, Addison Russell. Yu Darvish, too. Haven’t the Cubs had enough injuries to deal with this season?
They’ve managed to compile the National League’s best record anyway, proving there isn’t any one player they can’t win without. Unless that player is Rizzo, who has been an iron man since the Cubs called him up to the big leagues midway through the 2012 season.
What would happen to the Cubs if Rizzo were lost for a long stretch?
“I’ve thought about it before, and I’ve tried to squash that thought as quickly as it comes into my mind,” teammate Ben Zobrist said. “Because I do think he’s that constant that everybody depends on, and you realize it even if he’s out of the lineup for one day. He’s the anchor.
“I feel like he just has this captain quality, you know? He’s the guy that you may not always understand everything about him, but he’s always going to be consistently driving the ship. That’s kind of what he does here. You just can’t imagine what anything would be like if he’s not there every day.”
The Cubs have leaned on Rizzo heavily this season, though he got off to a miserable start. A sore back hampered him at the plate, and by the end of April he was hitting .158.
“I’m very, very, very confident that, on September 30, the numbers will be where they need to be,” he declared in mid-May after his fourth straight hitless game.
An 11-game hitting streak immediately followed, and Rizzo finished May with 28 RBI, the second-highest monthly total of his career. His August — when he hit .340 and posted a 1.041 OPS — was every hit as impressive.
And now a player who has hit 31 or 32 homers in each of the last four seasons, and driven in 101 to 109 runs in each of the last three, is indeed right back in his customary sweet spot. At 24 homers and 90 RBI entering Tuesday, with nearly a month to go, his career highs in both categories are realistically in reach.
Here’s another little nugget to chew on: Rizzo has 81 RBI since the start of May — more than even teammate Javy Baez, whose 100 RBI is tied for the NL lead.
It props up the notion of a stoic captain driving — what was that metaphor Zobrist mixed? — the ship.
We’ve certainly all spent a lot more time talking about Baez, who perhaps is leading the MVP race.
We’ve collectively flipped out, in a good way, about newcomer Daniel Murphy. Since being acquired by the Cubs on June 21, the hitting machine is batting .283 with three home runs. Exciting stuff, right? Rizzo, meanwhile, is batting .418 with six homers in that same span.
Maybe that’s why Rizzo never has finished higher than fourth in MVP voting. He just does his thing, and everyone simply expects it.
In Monday’s series opener, Rizzo became the first left-handed major leaguer to go deep of Brewers lefty Josh Hader. The reliever challenged Rizzo with 96 mph of up-and-in, and Rizzo just laughed at it — literally. If you watched his face as he rounded the bases, you saw it.
“That was a perfect picture of him right there,” Zobrist said. “We can’t lose that. We don’t ever want to lose that.”