First comes the initial look of shock and surprise.
What should follow is the knowing nod.
After all, this is Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon we’re talking about.
On the heels of a five-game winning streak that propelled the Cubs into first place, Maddon on Tuesday messed with what seemed to be success.
He benched young players Javier Baez and Albert Almora Jr., both of whom had been catalysts to the Cubs’ recent resurgence.
Then he had the audacity to move slumping first baseman Anthony Rizzo up to the leadoff spot.
So what happened? Rizzo hit the pitch he saw to left field for a home run. The Cubs could not take further advantage of the wind blowing out at Wrigley Field.
Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks gave up 3 solo homers in an otherwise solid 7⅔ innings as the Colorado Rockies came away with a 3-1 victory.
We’ve seen this before. Maddon put Rizzo at the leadoff spot last June, and all Rizzo did in leading off his first seven games was go home run, home run, walk, single, double, single, home run.
“I really thought that we needed something like a 20-foot python, a magician or a break dancer in the clubhouse,” Maddon said. “Instead I chose to hit Rizzo leadoff. So I thought it might pick the boys up a little bit. Tough series against Milwaukee. I didn’t think we were on top of our game (Monday).
“Wanted to give Javy and Albert a day off. I easily could have put (Ben) Zobrist there. Absolutely. But I thought it would be a little bit more of a lift for the group. Plus, Riz needs to get going. A lot of times in the past, I’ve liked to do that with some of the larger players on the team, put them in the leadoff spot and let them lighten up a little bit and just go play. We’ll see how it works out today.
“He loves it. That’s the other part. Riz digs it. He gets it, so we’ll see how it plays out tonight.”
Rizzo expressed excitement over batting first, especially after being reminded that he declared himself the greatest leadoff hitter of all time last year. He also appreciated Maddon letting him know about it during a morning text-and-talk.
Rizzo homered on the first pitch he saw from Jon Gray in the bottom of the first after Charlie Blackmon and David Dahl began the game with homers in the top of the first. Nolan Arenado led off the top of the fourth with a home run for the Rockies.
As for the players who sat, Almora entered the game 4-for-18 on the homestand, while Baez was 3-for-19 with a rough night in the field Monday.
Maddon also didn’t mind being questioned about flouting conventional wisdom.
“I’ve done this for several years, and I’ve done it with different guys, and most of the time, they benefit from it,” he said of moving Rizzo up. “The positive impact is found. I don’t worry — of course you know that. Again, the second hitter doesn’t have to be a guy who sacrifice bunts or hit-and-runs.
“You can make the first or third out at third base. You don’t have to wear suits on airplanes to be successful. There’s a lot of things I don’t agree with it.”
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