A look back at how one game against the Reds in the dog days of 2014 turned Anthony Rizzo into the leader of the Chicago Cubs.
The Chicago Cubs are going to the playoffs. Whether they lock up the National League Central this Wednesday in St. Louis, or later in the week at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, the Cubs are heading back to the postseason for a second consecutive season. It’s actually a little crazy to think that only two years ago that the team with the best record in MLB was the laughing stock of the game. Okay, it is the Cubs, the team that hasn’t won a World Series since the first Roosevelt was in office, so maybe it’s not that crazy.
But in 2014, Cubs fans around the world were supposed to believe in Theo Epstein and “The Plan,” a plan to finally shed the “lovable loser” image and bring a title to the North Side. There were young stars like Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez waiting in the wings, they’d just acquired Addison Russell from Oakland by ridding themselves of Jeff Samardzija and they had a budding star in young first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Yes, we’re going to lose now, Epstein would say, but bigger things are going to happen. Well, on a random day in Cincinnati during the dog days of the summer of 2014, something did happen. Anthony Rizzo became the leader of the Chicago Cubs, whether he knew it at the time or not.
After losing two in a row to the Washington Nationals, the Cubs headed to Great American Ballpark for a five-game set with the Reds. Chicago lost the first four, including both games of a doubleheader, putting their losing streak at six — not uncommon in the early days of “The Plan.” In the ninth inning that day, with the game tied, current Cub Aroldis Chapman came in and did what Aroldis Chapman does. He threw fastball after fastball and following an inning-ending strikeout, he started barking in the direction of the Cubs’ dugout. That did not sit well with Anthony Rizzo. The Reds were essentially laughing at the Cubs and Rizzo had had enough.
As the Cubs took the field, tension was still in the air and Rizzo, the same Anthony Rizzo that has so much fun on the diamond seemingly everyday, marched from first base toward the Reds’ dugout, threw down his glove and essentially dared any member of the Reds to come out and fight. Rizzo’s former teammate Luis Valbuena, now a member of the Houston Astros, told the Chicago Sun-Times that Rizzo was ready to throw down.
“Rizz was ready to fight, man. Oh, my god, was he ready to fight. He was ready to protect his teammates.”
Benches eventually did clear before things calmed down and the Chicago Cubs actually went on to win the game in twelve innings. Following the game, it was announced that Rizzo had made his first All-Star team and while the now-three-time All-Star says that he really doesn’t point to that game as the start of something, current teammate Chris Coghlan disagrees.
"“It was very meaningful because back then we just got kicked around a lot. We were just kind of nice guys who maybe — who knows? — were going to be good in a couple of years. That was the reputation we had with other teams.“What Rizz did that day was stand up as a leader — which you don’t often see from guys with superstar skill sets — and let it be known that things were changing right now.”"
And things certainly have changed. In a group now full of All-Star talent, Gold Glove winners, Cy Young and MVP candidates, Anthony Rizzo is the leader of a team that many are picking to finally break the 108-year losing streak and finally win the World Series.
And speaking of Cy Young candidates, a young right-hander named Kyle Hendricks made his Major League debut that afternoon as well. Okay, so maybe it’s hard to say that one day could turn around this franchise but it certainly didn’t hurt.