You wouldn’t think a bloop single could bring out the beast in a man, but I guess none of us knew what makes Anthony Rizzo roar.
We do now.
He was caught on camera screaming, “Respect me! Respect me!’’ after what turned out to be his game-winning hit Monday. You wouldn’t have heard him say it because of the deafening roar of the crowd at Wrigley Field, but you didn’t need a degree in lip-reading to know what he was saying on national TV.
This all played out because the Nationals had the gall to pitch to the Cubs slugger in the eighth inning rather than walk him to get to Willson Contreras. It was the slap in the face that led to a 2-1 Cubs victory and a 2-1 lead in this National League Division Series.
Lesson: Do not, under any circumstance, lead Rizzo to believe that you, in any way, think him lesser somehow. Also: There’s probably a good chance he’s hacked off anyway, so never mind.
“That’s the mentality I take always with [first] base open,’’ he said. “I want to make guys pay. . . . Usually, I keep that stuff behind the scenes when I say it. But the emotions got in the way.
“That’s the mentality. I believe I’m a really good hitter. I believe I’m one of the best hitters in the game. You have to believe in that.’’
Told of Rizzo’s respect-me primal scream, Nationals manager Dusty Baker said: “I don’t care. I would have screamed, too.’’
So far, this is Rizzo’s series. He has done something good in all three games, with an RBI single off an almost unhittable Stephen Strasburg in Game 1, a home run in Game 2 and then Game 3’s heroics.
The Cubs now have won games started by aces Strasburg and Max Scherzer, who had a no-hitter broken up on a double by Ben Zobrist with one out in the seventh. There’s goal-setting and then there’s pie-in-the-sky dreaming. This was the latter.
The Cubs dearly want to remind everyone that they’re the defending World Series champions. If there’s a team spokesman on the topic, it’s Rizzo.
“To stay in games like this, we know we’re good,’’ he said. “We know someone’s going to come through. And it’s just a matter of time before somebody does. Today it was Zobrist. . . . It’s just who we are.’’
A bloop single. Surely something as subtle and almost accidental couldn’t end up being the difference in a game that had been full of cymbals clashing, could it?
Yes, it could. And as it turned out, there was nothing subtle about Rizzo’s bloop single. Not if you saw his reaction on TV. Or that of his teammates. Or what it did to the complexion of this series. A victory Tuesday sends the Cubs into the NL Championship Series for the third year in a row.
There’s probably no good time to tell Rizzo this, so it might as well be now: Baker wasn’t all that impressed with the hit, which apparently was sent into left-center field by a pitching wedge.
“The ball was kind of in Never-never land out there between three emerging players on our team,’’ Baker said.
“He couldn’t have [placed it] any better if he had thrown the ball in there.’’
No shame in that. It’s what Rizzo does. He chokes up. He hits to the opposite field. Opponents have to respect (there’s that word) his power, so a Rizzo blooper is going to involve a lot of running by outfielders.
“It felt like it took about five minutes to drop,’’ Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber said. “But when it did, there was some mayhem in the dugout, especially by me. A lot of happiness right there.
“That was a big player in a big spot coming up big. No surprise there. He’s been the rock through this whole series right now. He’s going to keep going.’’
Just remember to respect him. He’s watching.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.