CHICAGO -- It felt like the ball was in the air for five minutes, Kyle Schwarber said, but it was only five seconds before Anthony Rizzo's popup found a patch of grass between three Nationals in shallow left-center field. In the Cubs' dugout, they were screaming at the baseball, urging
CHICAGO -- It felt like the ball was in the air for five minutes, Kyle Schwarber said, but it was only five seconds before Anthony Rizzo's popup found a patch of grass between three Nationals in shallow left-center field. In the Cubs' dugout, they were screaming at the baseball, urging it to "get heavy" and drop.
Across the field, Nationals manager Dusty Baker thought somebody would get to the ball in time. But Rizzo's two-out bloop landed safely, allowing Leonys Martin to scamper home and score the eventual winning run in the eighth inning of the Cubs' 2-1 victory over the Nationals on Monday in Game 3 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile.
"It was some mayhem in the dugout -- especially by me. A lot of happiness," Schwarber said, smiling. "That was a big player in a big spot coming up big. No surprise there."
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Perhaps Rizzo's game-winner wasn't a surprise, but it was unlikely. Consider the numbers. According to Statcast™, the popup came off Rizzo's bat at 70.7 mph with a 41-degree launch angle, good for a 29 percent hit probability. But it was perfectly placed, both clubs agreed.
"That ball is kind of in never-never land out there, between three merging players on our team," Baker said. "You couldn't have thrown the ball any better if he had thrown the ball in there."
Left fielder Jayson Werth needed to cover 98 feet in five seconds, according to Statcast™, giving him a 21 percent chance of making the play. Center fielder Michael A. Taylor is quicker, but he had a 14 percent catch probability as he had to span 100 feet. Shortstop Trea Turner had to cover 80 feet in five seconds, but he twisted and turned as he tried to make his way straight back to the ball. The play, and the inning, ended with Rizzo caught in a rundown and tagged out, but the damage was done.
"That ball can't get down. As a center fielder, I have to take over, take charge and make a call on that," Taylor said. "I think one of us has to take a shot right there. I always want the ball. I wish I would have dove. It's tough when that ball falls, and we're all standing on our feet like that."
With Martin on second, first base open and two outs in a key situation, Rizzo was surprised the Nationals brought in left-hander Oliver Perez to face him. Why not just walk him? Cubs manager Joe Maddon viewed it as a sign of respect for cleanup-hitting catcher Willson Contreras.
After he was thrown out to end the inning, Rizzo pounded his chest and shouted, "Respect me!"
"That's the mentality I take, always, with the base open. I want to make guys pay," Rizzo said. "Usually I keep that stuff behind the scenes and say that stuff, but just my emotions got me there."
The slugging first baseman has earned that level of respect in this series, driving in five of the eight runs the Cubs have scored as they've claimed a 2-1 lead in the NLDS, with a chance to clinch today. It was Rizzo's third game-winning RBI in the playoffs and his ninth straight postseason game with a hit, the third-longest streak in Cubs history.
Has he developed a knack for collecting hits in key situations?
"There are some guys that are like that," Maddon said. "I think a big reason is he uses the whole field. He's not always trying to pull the baseball. … He can hit the ball in the seats and then he can hit you a bloop or line drive to the left."
On Monday, it was a bloop. But for the Cubs, it was as good as any line drive or towering home run.
"It doesn't matter how hard he hit it," Bryant said. "It fell, and we won."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.