No pain, no gain: Anthony Rizzo keeps standing in the line of fire
Anthony Rizzo couldn’t just stand there and do nothing. Not after being hit in the left forearm, a couple of inches above the wrist, by the mother of all fastballs.
So he doubled over in agony — for all of about three seconds. Then he took his base because that’s what the guy does.
If you’re like me, you watched Rizzo absorb that pitch from Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman a little more than a week ago and wondered how it must have felt and how you would have reacted had you been hit in the same spot by a pitcher who rolls out of bed in the morning throwing 100 mph. I’d like to think I wouldn’t have cried. Passed out, definitely, but not cried.
Rizzo did little more than grimace and walk to first base, as though hit-by-pitch No. 82 of his career was no different than Nos. 1 through 81.
It’s a nonstarter to ask Rizzo to describe how it felt.
‘‘It’s fine; no issue,’’ he said a day after the incident, as though the swelling and bruising on his arm were like a temporary tattoo a child gets at a carnival.
Jason Heyward, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist, Jon Jay — all have missed time, with an assortment of ailments, since Rizzo was hit by Chapman. But Rizzo was in the lineup for both games of a doubleheader the next time the Cubs took the field. He’s only 3-for-20 since being hit — probably not a coincidence — but at least he’s playing at a time when his struggling team needs all hands on deck.
‘‘He’s a gamer,’’ Zobrist said. ‘‘He’s a guy that’s tough. He’s not going to make any excuses — ever. That’s why he’s the franchise guy here. He’s Anthony Rizzo. He’s a stud.’’
Rizzo isn’t going to elaborate in any detail about the pain he dealt with two Sundays ago or about how his arm has felt since. But that doesn’t mean his teammates won’t do it for him, even if it involves some guesswork.
‘‘Oh, God, it had to hurt a ton,’’ right-hander Kyle Hendricks said. ‘‘I’m sure he’s still feeling it big time. He won’t tell you that; he won’t even tell us that. But getting hit in that kind of spot, right on the wrist like that, 100 miles an hour? I can’t even fathom it.’’
Willson Contreras still remembers the pain he occasionally felt last season just from catching Chapman, who was the Cubs’ closer.
‘‘If I couldn’t catch the ball in the net of the glove, it would hurt my hand so bad,’’ he said. ‘‘But 100 miles an hour in the arm? Oh, my God, it would hurt. It would hurt like crazy. It hurts just to think about it. But that’s why Rizzo is the leader of this team.’’
If anything, taking that HBP and living to tell about it seems to have upped Rizzo’s street cred among his fellow Cubs.
‘‘He took it like a man,’’ Russell said. ‘‘That just tells you the type of player that he is. He’s a dog. He’s the man.’’
And maybe a bit of a maniac? Most players wouldn’t dare stand where Rizzo does at the plate. He practically begs to be drilled by the baseball. We’ve seen this for so long now, it has become just another routine thing. Yet it doesn’t get any less dangerous.
‘‘And it’s not just where he stands; it’s also what he does when the ball is coming in at him,’’ Zobrist said. ‘‘A lot of us, when the ball comes at us, we jump out of the way. He just stays right in there and — this is the part that’s amazing to me — he doesn’t even move his feet.
‘‘Maybe that’s why we take it for granted that, when he gets hit, he’s going to walk down to first base and stay in the game, stay in the lineup. We probably shouldn’t just assume that because it isn’t really fair. But we do.’’
By now, we all do. In his career, Rizzo has been hit by a pitch in .025 percent of his plate appearances. That’s once per 40. The Cubs open a 10-game homestand Tuesday. The math says Rizzo has another HBP coming his way at Wrigley Field.
At least he knows it almost certainly won’t be as bad as the last one.
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.