PHILADELPHIA — On the same day his mom and dad were honored as the Little League Parents of the Year at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo hit two home runs and drove in five during a 17-2 rout of the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday.
Rizzo’s parents must have done something right in raising the 28-year-old, as he’s quietly having his most productive season. After hitting his 29th and 30th home runs of the year, he should easily surpass his career high of 32, achieved twice, including last season; this is all happening the week after Rizzo won Player of the Week in the National League.
“Hit balls where they weren’t standing last week,” he said of the start of his run. “Just get a few knocks under your belt and you feel naturally better and it carries over.”
Rizzo is usually short on explanations when it comes to his hot streaks, but he wasn’t shy when it came to talking about his parents. He wasn’t sure how they won the award, but knows they were deserving of it.
“I think that was really cool,” Rizzo said. “They’re in Williamsport right now, having a great time.”
What’s also cool would be a hot finish by Rizzo and his good buddy, Kris Bryant. The Cubs could use it, as the two haven’t often been hot at the same time this season; Saturday provided a moment for almost everyone on the club to feel good, particularly coming off consecutive bad losses to last-place teams in Philadelphia and Cincinnati.
Bryant was on base four times, including once via a home run, his 24th. Role player Tommy La Stella has come alive at the plate, as he homered twice for the first time in his big-league career while taking over the team lead in OPS (minimum 100 plate appearances) with a .983 mark. He drove in four.
“Tonight was an awesome game,” La Stella said. “It’s not going to go like this all the time. It’s rare when you feel that comfortable at the plate. You go in and out of it, but I feel good right now.”
Even starter Kyle Hendricks got in the action, becoming the first pitcher since 2015 to compile two hits in an inning as part of a seven-run frame in the seventh. He opened the inning with a single, then doubled home two runs later. By then the game was well in hand, as the Cubs notched a season high in runs and hit six out of the park.
“I was thinking about [a second hit] then fell behind 3-0 and figured I’d take a walk,” Hendricks said. “Then [with the count] 3-1, I closed my eyes and got lucky, I guess. It happens.”
What’s happened a lot for Rizzo lately is hitting home runs, as he reached 30 for the fourth consecutive season. It might sound strange, considering he’s a major face of a World Series-winning team, but his production kind of flies under the radar. He has become a perennial top-10 MVP candidate, but he has never broken through to be a finalist. He has 90 RBIs to go along with 30 home runs and a .275 batting average, but his most impressive stat — and perhaps the most impressive in the whole game — is his strikeout-to-walk ratio. After five months of baseball, Rizzo has walked one more time (73) than he has struck out (72). That’s nearly unheard of for a slugger in today’s game.
“Really mature at-bats, uses the whole field, chokes up, moves the ball around,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s not up there just trying to hit home runs, but when he gets the opportunity, and they make a mistake, he’s got that good swing. Just maturing as a hitter.”
Maddon’s hope is that other young Cubs might take on Rizzo’s persona in a couple years, but that might be selling him short. Those walk-to-strikeout numbers won’t be easily duplicated no matter how much experience others get. Rizzo has become that unique.
Good or not, his decorated parents never made winning or having success part of the Rizzo routine when it came to baseball. Win or lose, it was ice cream after games. Perhaps that’s one reason why they’re being honored in Williamsport. Of course, not much has changed for Rizzo, only where he eats his dessert these days.
“Ice cream tastes better in the big leagues,” Rizzo said.
Everything does after the night he had.