Anthony Rizzo uses Cubs teammate Matt Szczur’s bat to snap out of playoff slump

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LOS ANGELES  – An audible groan could be heard 3,000 miles away from home plate at Dodger Stadium in the third inning on Wednesday night.

Don’t think Anthony Rizzo wasn’t doing the same in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series as well.

For a second time in the game the Cubs’ MVP candidate – who hit .292 with 32 homers and 109 RBI in the regular season – struck out against rookie Julio Urias. It dropped his average to putrid 2-for-28 in the playoffs with the last at-bat being his ninth strikeout.

Something had to change. Rizzo had just the idea.

“I’ve done it a few times, especially later on in the year. Especially today,” said Rizzo, who made an equipment switch following that last strikeout.

Instead of using his own bat he decided to call on his teammate to lend him one of his. That’s Matt Szczur, a utility player reduced to fan in this series since he was left off the active roster.

Funny how he might have led to the biggest turnaround of the 2016 playoffs for the Cubs.

With Szczur’s bat in hand, Rizzo smashed out of his slump with three-straight hits to finish the game. That included his first home run of the playoffs in the fifth inning and two more RBIs in the sixth that paced a 10-2 Cubs blowout of the Dodgers to even up the best-of-seven series at two.

“The first two at-bats weren’t so hot. Szcz came out today with a nice feature on him about him giving his bone marrow, so all the things were just adding up,” said Rizzo of his reason for switching bats. “I hit well with his bat, so he has hits in it. Same size, just different model and different name, and it worked.”

Last night the first baseman got a taste of what the bat could do when he used it in the ninth inning. The lumber, which is brown near the handle then jet black at the top, shattered when Rizzo connected with a pitch in the ninth inning but got enough on the ball to push it to the right side of the infield for his first hit of the NLCS.

When his bat – which is jet black from top to bottom – couldn’t make much contact in his first two plate appearances, Rizzo decided to try Szczur’s to try and snap out of the slump.

“I just saw him walking up with my bat and I started laughing,” said Szczur, who said he uses a bat similar to teammate Kris Bryant. “Then he hits the homer.”

A towering shot, in fact, just center field that represented not just his first homer of the playoffs but also his first extra-base hit and RBI. In the sixth inning he followed that with a two-run single to right with the bases loaded that drove home a pair of runs to break the game open. For good measure he added a bloop single to left over the outstretched glove of shortstop Corey Seager for his third hit of the game.

All of those highlights collected with Szczur represented more hits that Rizzo got in the previous seven postseason games in 2016. His three RBIs, in fact, are more than he’s driven in during his entire postseason career.

“It’s annoying, for sure, but it’s what makes our team so great is everyone has each other’s back and everyone’s rooting for everyone,” said Rizzo of dealing with the slump then finally breaking it. “We’re so close it’s more of friendships than anything else.

“Personally, I was upset, but I knew that the team was where we needed to be, and obviously we were down 2-1, but we responded in a big way today.”

Perhaps no one bigger than Rizzo, which makes Szczur’s contribution one of the biggest of the postseason to date.

“It’s not my bat,” insisted Szczur. “It’s Tony as a player.”

Though a little change did the Cubs’ slugger a little good.