Anthony Rizzo writhed in pain on the infield grass and clutched his injured right ankle.
Had the star first baseman’s season come to an end? And, if so, what could it mean for the Cubs?
Those questions lingered over what otherwise would have been a feel-good 16-6 win Sunday. The Cubs completed a three-game sweep of the Pirates and finished the series with a whopping 47 runs, the franchise’s highest total in a three-game series since 1894.
The victory, coupled with a Cardinals loss against the Brewers, allowed the Cubs to climb within two games of first place in the National League Central with 13 games remaining. They maintained a one-game lead over the Brewers in the wild-card race.
So why did the locker room seem especially quiet as players dressed and headed out for the evening?
All thoughts focused on Rizzo, who still was receiving treatment from the team’s medical staff several hours after his injury. The team announced he had a sprained right ankle and X-rays showed no fractures.
Rizzo will undergo an MRI exam Monday to learn more about the severity of the injury.
“It’s not ideal,” Kyle Schwarber said. “The guy’s been a staple in the middle of the lineup for years now.”
The injury took place in the third inning as Rizzo sprinted in from first base to field a bunt. He lost his footing on some loose grass in front of the mound and rolled his right ankle nearly sideways. He completed the throw but stayed on the ground in pain as trainers attended to him.
Teammate Jason Heyward helped Rizzo hobble toward the dugout as others watched a few feet away.
“This whole day was just so weird,” said Kris Bryant, who hit his 30th and 31st home run in the victory. “It was really weird standing on third after it happened. Everybody was just kind of quiet. I’ve never really experienced that here. That just shows how much everybody loves him.
“He’s always on the field, too. It’s hard when you see him go down because he’s always out there.”
Rizzo, who drew a pair of walks in the leadoff spot before his injury, is hitting .289 with 26 homers and 93 RBI in 140 games. He has missed more than nine games in a season only once since 2013, but now he figures to miss some time.
The only question is how much.
Manager Joe Maddon acknowledged Rizzo’s value but insisted that the injury will not define the season’s final weeks.
“It’s no different than [Christian] Yelich being lost to the Brewers,” Maddon said. “Stuff happens, man.
“You’ve just got to keep moving it forward. We’ll wait and see how it plays out. There’s a potential that it’s not going to be that long. Just remain optimistic and see what they say [after the MRI].”
The Cubs already are without Javy Baez, who is expected to miss the rest of the season because of a hairline fracture in his left thumb. Closer Craig Kimbrel is out because of right elbow inflammation. Bryant and Willson Contreras have missed chunks of time because of injuries, and Ben Zobrist was out for several months because of personal issues.
If Rizzo misses an extended period of time, the Cubs could shift Victor Caratini to first base. Ian Happ replaced Rizzo at first base Sunday and also could see more time there.
“We’re used to this, in a sense,” Maddon said. “The depth has got to pick us up.
“We’re going to miss Rizz. We already miss Javy. But I really believe the rest of the group is up for the task.”