‘Dirty’? A ‘dirtbag’? Cubs villain Anthony Rizzo quiets PNC with clutch home run
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PITTSBURGH — First, there were lusty boos. Then came a lone voice rising above the din:
“You’re dirty, Rizzo!”
No more than a couple of seconds later, the Cubs first baseman — and brand-new persona non grata at PNC Park — ripped a ringing double off the right-field wall.
That was in the first inning of Tuesday’s 8-6 Cubs victory. An even better version of the scene played out in the decisive seventh inning, with the Pirates leading 4-3.
“Rizzo, you dirtbag!” yelled a fan whose booming voice could be heard throughout Allegheny County, or at least the ballpark.
On the very next pitch — yep, you guessed it — Rizzo lofted a tying home run into the good, happy, angry night.
How you saw it depended upon whose side you were on.
The Cubs soon took the lead on an Ian Happ double and extended it on a two-out single by Jason Heyward. Kyle Schwarber tacked on in the eighth with a two-run homer off the right-field foul pole.
But Rizzo’s bat made the loudest statement on a night when some were calling for retaliation for Rizzo’s slide that took out Pirates catcher Elias Diaz in Monday’s series-opening victory by the Cubs.
Fair or not, Rizzo is becoming a villain here.
“He could reach Jake Arrieta status,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s not impossible.”
Willson Contreras was the player the Pirates appeared to take their grievances out on. Starter Nick Kingham and reliever Michael Feliz each hit the Cubs catcher on the upper left arm, and each time Contreras smiled and clapped as he ran down the first-base line.
“Smiled and ran to first base — my god, do I love him,” Maddon said. “That’s also another component that makes him the best catcher in baseball.”
It was Rizzo, though, who caught all the grief from Pirates fans. This, after MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre spoke with Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and Maddon on Tuesday and told them umpires were wrong for letting Rizzo’s slide at home plate stand the previous day. Rizzo clipped Diaz’s foot as the catcher was throwing to first base to complete a double play. The throw sailed into right field, allowing two runs to score as Diaz rolled around in pain.
“They 100 percent made it clear that it wasn’t a dirty play,” Rizzo said of MLB’s message. “It is what it is. We just have to move on from it.”
Dirty, no, but apparently against a recent rule prohibiting a runner from deviating from a direct path to a base to contact an opponent. For their part, the Pirated were gracious toward Rizzo.
“They all play hard,” veteran catcher Francisco Cervelli said. “Since I’ve known the teams Joe Maddon managed, they play hard. … I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
Sean Rodriguez — known by many Cubs fans for his dugout eruption during the 2015 NL wild-card game — took it a step further.
“I would’ve slid the same way,” he said. “You’ve got a foot on the line where some guys think it’s dirty and some don’t when you play hard. And Rizzo, as long as I’ve known him? He came up in the same school of baseball that I did, where you’re taught to play with everything you’ve got, and he does that. I respect every bit of that about Rizzo.”
Maddon, after coming out in full force in support of Rizzo’s slide the day before, was less gracious about his feelings.
“I talked to Mr. Torre and he explained to me his interpretation, and I told him that, with all due respect, I absolutely disagree,” Maddon said. “I still believe the umpires for it right both in New York [by replay review] and on the field.”
Maddon ripped a few TV analysts, without actually naming anyone, saying only one had “half a brain” in regard to the controversial play.
“I’m not backing down from that,” he said. “I believe I was right.”