CHICAGO (AP) — Moments after his go-ahead hit, Anthony Rizzo walked across the infield at frenzied Wrigley Field and shouted “Respect me! Respect me!”
A year after their historic championship, Rizzo and the Chicago Cubs are fighting for another memorable October.
Rizzo blooped a tiebreaking single into left field with two outs in the eighth and the Cubs overcame Max Scherzer’s brilliant performance to beat the Washington Nationals 2-1 on Monday for a 2-1 lead in their NL Division Series.
The Nationals had a base open with Rizzo coming to the plate and pinch runner Leonys Martin on second, but manager Dusty Baker elected to pitch to the slugger with Willson Conteras on-deck. Oliver Perez came in and Rizzo looped his first pitch into shallow left-center, finding a patch of grass between three Washington fielders.
Rizzo stumbled after he took a big turn around first and was tagged out to end the inning, but he didn’t seem to care too much, demanding veneration as the Cubs came out of the dugout for the ninth.
“I want to make guys pay,” Rizzo said. “I hit where I hit in the order. I drive in runs, and that’s just the mentality that I always take in. Usually I keep that stuff behind the scenes and say that stuff, but just my emotions got me there.”
Baker had a different viewpoint. Asked if Rizzo, who drove in two runs in each of the first two games of the series, seems like a player who gets hits at key moments in the playoffs, Baker responded: “Well, yeah, I guess. I mean, it’s not really turning it on when you bloop one in there, you know what I mean?”
Scherzer was dominant in his return from a right hamstring injury, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh. But just like in Game 1, when Chicago was held hitless into the sixth by Stephen Strasburg, the World Series champion Cubs showed off their resilience on the way to a stirring victory.
Game 4 of the best-of-five series is Tuesday. Jake Arrieta returns from his own hamstring injury for the Cubs, while Tanner Roark gets the ball for the Nationals.
“We’ve got to attack. We’ve got to be in attack mode,” Rizzo said. “There’s no relaxing just because we’re up in the series.”
Chicago committed four errors, including two by left fielder Kyle Schwarber on one ugly play, and Jason Heyward also made an uncharacteristic baserunning mistake. But the Cubs got a huge pinch-hit RBI single from Albert Almora Jr. and a solid pitching performance from Jose Quintana in the return of postseason baseball to Wrigley after last year’s World Series ended in Cleveland.
After Rizzo’s big hit, All-Star Wade Davis retired three in a row for his second save of the series. Jayson Werth popped out to Rizzo to end the game.
“We made mistakes,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We made some errors, but then we made some great plays.”
Scherzer struck out seven before he was pulled after Ben Zobrist doubled to left-center on his 98th pitch for Chicago’s first hit with one out in the seventh. With Washington clinging to a 1-0 lead, Baker opted for left-hander Sammy Solis, who had a 5.88 ERA during the regular season, and Maddon countered by sending Almora to hit for the lefty-batting Schwarber.
“I know you guys are probably going to second-guess that but these guys are here to make a decision,” Scherzer said. “When they made that decision I wasn’t going to override anybody. These are pressure-packed situations. They’ve done their homework and they’ve done their job to come up with the best scenario in that situation. I understand it.”
Mark this one down for Maddon, who drew some criticism after he allowed Carl Edwards Jr. to pitch to Bryce Harper in the eighth in Game 2 and the slugger responded with a two-run homer.
Almora lined a 3-2 pitch into left-center for his first career postseason hit in 15 at-bats. Almora yelled and pounded his chest after rounding first and the crowd of 42,445 cheered wildly.
“When I got my chance, I did it for the whole team, but mostly for Quintana and Schwarber,” Almora said.
While Scherzer mowed down the Cubs, Quintana worked on his own gem in his first career playoff appearance. Helped by terrific running grabs by Heyward in right and Jon Jay in center, the left-hander carried a two-hit shutout into the sixth.
With two outs in the inning, Daniel Murphy lofted a fly ball to left that Schwarber dropped and then flubbed again when he tried to pick it up. The two errors put Murphy on third, and Maddon was booed as he went to the mound to pull Quintana in favor of Pedro Strop.
Ryan Zimmerman followed with an RBI double into the gap in right-center, giving Washington the lead. The All-Star slugger also had one of the big blows in Game 2, hitting a tiebreaking three-run homer in the Nationals’ 6-3 victory.
UP AND DOWN
Schwarber’s costly play was part of a strange day in the field for the Cubs. Quintana and Zobrist also committed an error, but Russell made a spectacular diving stop on Michael A. Taylor’s grounder to shortstop in the seventh and Zobrist robbed Trea Turner of a hit with a solid play at second in the eighth.
Roark is from Wilmington, Illinois, about 60 miles south of Chicago, and grew up rooting for the Cubs. The 31-year-old right-hander is 3-1 with a 3.24 ERA in five career games at Wrigley Field.
Arrieta hasn’t pitched in a game since he lasted just three innings in a loss at St. Louis on Sept. 26. But he said he is 100 percent for his eighth career playoff start.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
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