Hilarity ensues as Rizzo strikes out 'Frederick'

April 29th, 2021

warned . From the on-deck circle at Truist Park, the Cubs first baseman caught Freeman's eye in the top of the seventh on Wednesday night.

"I was kind of loosening my arm up," Rizzo said with a grin. "And I go, 'I want you,' pointing at him."

Tony vs. Frederick.

In a 10-0 rout by the Braves, it was a heavyweight bout that baseball fans did not realize they so desperately needed. In the bottom of the seventh, Rizzo took the mound, took on the reigning National League MVP, and neither All-Star could stop smiling.

"I couldn't stop laughing as I was going up to the plate," Freeman said. "It's a recipe for disaster."

Disaster, perhaps, for Freeman. For Rizzo? He collected his first career strikeout as a pitcher, using a sweeping 61-mph curveball to end what had been a 4-for-4 evening for Freeman.

"He'll have that over me forever," Freeman said. "But that's one strikeout I'm OK with. That was fun. It was fun to be a part of."

With the game out of hand, Cubs manager David Ross initially planned to have infielder Matt Duffy pitch in the seventh inning. Freeman was due up third, so Rizzo -- with a 0.00 career ERA on the line -- told his manager he wanted a shot.

"You try to lighten it a little bit," Ross said. "When you have a night like tonight, you try to just take a mental break, [and] enjoy it. That was a nice moment for Rizz. He told me he wanted Freddie."

This came after a fun moment during ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball back on April 18, when Rizzo was chasing Freeman during a rundown and playfully shouted, "Frederick!"

Rizzo's last pitching appearance came at the end of a game against the D-backs on July 23, 2018, when he induced a flyout off the bat of AJ Pollock. This time around, the first baseman initially generated a groundout from Atlanta's Johan Camargo.

Next up was the always dangerous Ronald Acuña Jr., whom Rizzo walked.

"I had to pitch around Acuña there," Rizzo said with a smirk. "I know he does a lot of damage."

That set up the battle with Freeman, who could not contain a smile as he stepped up to the plate. On the mound, Rizzo was also grinning wide, so much so that he had to look away to gather himself.

"It was just so hard," Freeman said. "I don't think I've ever gotten a hit off a position player in my career. I hate those at-bats. A lot of us don't like those at-bats. They're hard."

One at-bat earlier, Freeman launched a 64 mph slow curve from Cubs righty Alec Mills out to right field for his seventh homer of the season. Rizzo, however, had a breaker that was just a touch slower, resulting in a hard swing-and-miss from the MVP.

"It was a little bit under my hitting speed," Freeman quipped.

Where did Rizzo learn that curveball?

"Back in high school. My dad taught me it," said Rizzo, who noted that he toys around with different spins while throwing warm-up grounders to Chicago's infielders.

After finishing Freeman with the curve, Rizzo stood on the mound with his arms out in celebration. The Braves first baseman continued to laugh and offered some applause for Rizzo upon reaching the dugout.

"I'm sure I'm getting blown up on social media," Freeman said. "But it's all in good fun. Hopefully, a lot of people enjoyed that. But I didn't."

Duffy and fellow Cubs infielder Eric Sogard recorded the final four outs for the Cubs.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this marked the third time in the Expansion Era (since 1961) that a position player who had already been an All-Star struck out another former All-Star. Rizzo joined Ben Zobrist (struck out Yadier Molina on Sept. 29, 2019) and Todd Frazier (struck out Adam Duvall on Sept. 18, 2020) on that unique list.

Rizzo also became the first position player to strike out the previous season's MVP since Matt Davidson did so against Giancarlo Stanton on Aug. 6, 2018.

Naturally, Rizzo handed the ball to Ross for safe keeping.

"First career punchout," Rizzo said. "I'm probably going to ask him for his jersey, too. Have him write all his accolades on there, that [Freeman] was 4-for-5 in the game with one punchout, three RBIs.

"You try to have fun as much as you can in this game. You don't know how long it's going to last."

On a tough night for the Cubs, it was a fun moment that helped lighten the mood in the dugout.

"That was incredible," Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks said. "You've got to be able to step back from the game and just be able to enjoy things like that. No, that was obviously really fun, knowing those two guys, how well they know each other."