Anthony Rizzo can’t predict how long he’ll remain in the leadoff spot.
But one thing is certain: He’s going to milk it for everything it’s worth. And as long as Rizzo stays hot, there’s no telling if — or when — things will change.
Rizzo stayed perfect in first-inning plate appearances as a leadoff man Monday night in the Cubs’ 3-2 victory against the Padres at Wrigley Field.
His bunt single extended his string of consecutive games getting on base leading off the first inning to six — the fifth Cub to do so since 1946 — while pushing his hitting streak to a career-best 13 games.
Last season, Dexter Fowler matched the feat, which is one game short of Richie Ashburn’s mark. He reached safely in seven consecutive games for the Cubs in 1960.
But Rizzo’s impact extends way beyond a leadoff bunt.
“He has definitely set the tone for our entire team,” manager Joe Maddon said.
After hitting a triple leading off the sixth inning with the Cubs trailing 2-1, Rizzo tried to score on Kris Bryant’s low liner to center. He was beaten by a pinpoint throw from former teammate Matt Szczur but barreled through catcher Austin Hedges, who was forced to leave the game with a bruised right thigh.
Padres manager Andy Green said Hedges won’t play Tuesday and could be out longer.
Maddon said he loved the play.
Green called the collision a “fairly egregious violation” of a rule designed to protect catchers. He claimed the umpires did nothing to protect Hedges and took umbrage with Rizzo’s actions.
Green will allow “people above me,” possibly contacting Major League Baseball officials, to review a play he “doesn’t feel good about.”
“It’s a cheap shot,” Green said. “I’m not saying [Rizzo] is a dirty player at all — nobody is saying that — but he clearly deviated from his path to hit our catcher. He took our catcher out.”
While saying he doesn’t want to see anyone hurt, Rizzo took exception to Green’s characterization, citing conversations he has had with umpires about a baserunner’s rights.
“My understanding is if [the catcher] has the ball, it’s game on,” said Rizzo, who went 2-for-3.
“I don’t, by no means, think that’s a dirty play at all. . . . It was a hard slide. I play this game hard. For 162 games-plus, I pride myself on running the bases hard, doing everything hard. So I can’t see that being dirty.”
Cubs starter Jon Lester, who allowed two runs and five hits in six innings, agreed.
“That’s part of baseball,” Lester said. “That’s the way the game has been played for a long, long time, and I love seeing it.”
Maddon has seen other benefits to Rizzo’s production since he was moved up in the order. The move has boosted the morale of a clubhouse that Maddon acknowledged can change when “guys become quiet.”
Rizzo has kept things lively.
“He’s going to be even more effervescent based on how well he’s been playing,” Maddon said. “I hear it in the dugout. He’s loving it, and we all are because it’s definitely made a difference.”
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