PITTSBURGH (AP) — Anthony Rizzo has no intention of easing up at home plate, even after Major League Baseball said he should have been called out for interference when he took out Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Elias Diaz and sparked a debate about what is — and what isn’t — a legal slide.
Then again, if given the choice, the Chicago Cubs first baseman prefers to trot home instead. When he does, the Cubs are as dangerous as any team in baseball.
Rizzo shook off the boos and sparked a late rally with his ninth home run of the season as Chicago beat the reeling Pirates 8-6 on Tuesday night.
A day after his aggressive tack toward Diaz in an effort to break up a double play drew a review from MLB director of baseball operations Joe Torre , Rizzo doubled in the first inning and sent a solo shot off Edgar Santana (2-1) just over the railing of the Clemente Wall in right field to knot the game at 4 in the seventh.
“I feel more relaxed, that’s the biggest key,” Rizzo after extending his hit streak to 11 games. “The preparation is pretty much the same. I do the same drills beforehand, the same video work. Balls are falling now and I’m gripping the bat a little less tightly than a couple of weeks ago.”
The Cubs then piled on against Pittsburgh’s sagging bullpen to hand the Pirates their ninth loss in 11 games. Chicago scored five times against Pittsburgh relievers, including Ian Happ’s go-ahead double two batters after Rizzo tied it and Kyle Schwarber’s two-run homer off the right-field foul pole in the eighth.
Jon Lester (5-2) lacked his usual crispness, allowing four runs in six innings, but had the second multihit game of his 13-year career by going 2 for 3 with an RBI single in the sixth that drew the Cubs within a run. Jason Heyward went 3 for 5 with an RBI for Chicago and got a kick out of the response from fans at PNC Park every time Rizzo stepped into the batter’s box.
“It makes it more fun to play,” Heyward said. “The call didn’t go their way and I’d be upset too if a call didn’t go my way.”
Brandon Morrow gave up a two-run single to Starling Marte in the ninth but got two outs for his 12th save.
Marte finished 3 for 5 with three RBIs, Austin Meadows hit his fourth home run since being called up on May 18 and Diaz exacted a measure of revenge by taking Lester deep in the third, but Pittsburgh’s bullpen couldn’t keep the Cubs in check after rookie Nick Kingham worked 5 2/3 effective innings while making a spot start for injured Ivan Nova.
“I liked the fight at the end,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “However, the game wasn’t complete. We didn’t play well enough to win. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter. We’ve got to get better.”
The Cubs spotted the Pirates leads of 3-0 and 4-2 but kept coming. Rizzo led the way following an unusual 24 hours in which he found himself at the center of a ruckus.
Rizzo clipped Diaz’s right leg at home plate while breaking up a double play Monday, and Diaz’s throw to first sailed into right field, allowing two runs to score as the Cubs cruised to a 7-0 victory. The play was upheld on replay review Monday but Torre informed both teams Tuesday that Rizzo should have been called out for interference.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon mounted a vehement defense for his star, telling Torre he respectfully disagreed with his interpretation. Rizzo stressed he didn’t attempt to injure Diaz and placed part of the blame on a rule that lacks clarity.
Rizzo shrugged when asked if he was worried about retaliation, and while the Pirates plunked catcher Willson Contreras twice, they didn’t really take aim at Rizzo until reliever Michael Feliz went tight inside three times in the eighth.
By then, the game was already over.
Santana hadn’t given up a run in 14 appearances since April 25 but came undone against the heart of Chicago’s lineup. Rizzo’s home run was caught by a fan wearing Cubs gear in the first row of seats above the 21-foot high Clemente Wall. Umpires took a look but the call was upheld after a 93-second review, and Santana fell apart.
The Pirates held a team meeting after the loss on Monday, a game that finished with third baseman David Freese and third base coach Joey Cora having to be separated following a heated exchange. Freese said Tuesday he and Cora are “good to go.”
Veteran utility player Sean Rodriguez thinks the back-and-forth between Freese and Cora can end up being a good thing.
“Sometimes the best relationships are formed after some kind of altercation or incidence, whether it’s words or physical,” Rodriguez said.
Cubs: Happ started in center field and made a fabulous running catch at the wall in the sixth to rob Diaz of extra bases. Happ complained of soreness in his right shoulder after trying to make a diving catch against San Francisco on Saturday and did not start Sunday or Monday.
Pirates: Pittsburgh closer Felipe Vazquez (left forearm) pitched a scoreless ninth in his first appearance since complaining of left forearm tightness while blowing a save against St. Louis on Sunday.
Cubs: Kyle Hendricks (4-3, 3.16 ERA) makes his 12th career start against the Pirates in Wednesday’s series finale.
Pirates: Joe Musgrove (1-0, 0.00) makes his second start for Pittsburgh since coming off the disabled list last week.
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