Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo helping underdog Italy to victory
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org March 8, 2013 11:11PM
Italy's Alex Liddi jumps onto teammate Anthony Rizzo (44) as Alessandro Vaglio (19) runs past after Italy won a World Baseball Classic baseball game against Mexico, Thursday, March 7, 2013, at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz. Italy won 6-5. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Updated: March 9, 2013 1:24AM
MESA, Ariz. — Cubs and ex-Cubs are having a much more successful run representing Italy in the World Baseball Classic than Chicago in the National League.
Team Italy is the early surprise of the tournament, upsetting Mexico on Thursday with a ninth-inning rally in the pool-play opener, then trouncing Team Canada 14-4 on Friday in a game called in the eight because of the WBC’s “mercy” rule.
Italy plays the United States on Saturday, already with a strong chance to advance to the second round in Miami regardless of that result.
Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who appears to have extended his leave from the team for at least another week, drove in the tying and go-ahead runs against Mexico with a ninth-inning double that went in and out of former spring-training and Class AAA teammate Edgar Gonzalez’s glove.
It made his cancer research charity several thousands of dollars richer.
“We all said if they won a game, we’d give him 500 bucks for his charity,” manager Dale Sveum said of the handful of Italia skeptics razzing Rizzo on his way to the tourney. “I wanted to go back and look at the video to make sure we didn’t say $500 for every win.”
Rizzo is 2-for-8 with a pair of walks and three RBI in the two games.
Longtime Cubs farmhand Alex Maestri earned the victory over Canada. And even an almost-Cub — reliever Jason Grilli, who turned down a free-agent offer from the Cubs this winter — earned the save Thursday.
Does Sveum regret giving Rizzo the OK to play in the tournament now that it looks like he’ll lose his first baseman for at least another week of camp — along with $500?
“No. He’d still be playing anyway,’’ Sveum said. “You don’t get to have that feeling he got [Thursday] to be that big an underdog and to win a game like that.
“He said his second baseman said, ‘Man, I’m going to have a heart attack out here.’”