PITTSBURGH — Anthony Rizzo’s seventh home run of the season gave the sleep-deprived Chicago Cubs an early lead on Monday afternoon. His two-run single in the ninth put the finishing touches on a 7-0 romp over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It’s what happened in between that could have a carry-over effect for the NL Central rivals.
Rizzo slid hard into Pittsburgh catcher Elias Diaz while being forced out at home in the eighth inning, taking out Diaz’s legs, forcing a wild throw into right field. That allowed two runs to score and left both sides wondering what does — and doesn’t — constitute a legal slide in modern-day Major League Baseball.
Rizzo claimed he “wasn’t trying to hurt anyone” when he went leg-first into Diaz, who had already touched home plate for the force out and was a full step in front of the base when the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Rizzo undercut him.
“Plays like that are scary, but at the same time, you have to play hard,” Rizzo said. “It’s 100 percent in the rules.”
Cubs manager Joe Maddon agreed, calling it a “perfect play” while chastising officials for not doing a proper job educating fans on the rules.
“The fans’ reaction to (Rizzo) the next time he came up indicates that they think he did something wrong,” Maddon said. “And that’s what’s so wrong about all of that. Different plays where the player has not done anything wrong, but because of new rules, it makes him wear the black hat for the moment.”
The Pirates challenged the call, but it stood on review, a sequence that ended with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle getting ejected when he came out to argue the decision.
“Our catcher, he makes the play just like he’s supposed to make and he gets wiped out with a hard baseball slide,” Hurdle said. “There’s potential injury and I don’t see the rule fitting the means there. If it’s open season, it’s open season. Everybody is going to see the play and knows this is a play you can make on every catcher in his most vulnerable position. He’s completely exposed.”
Diaz remained in the game after being tended to by trainers and said Rizzo apologized before his at-bat in the ninth inning.
“When I saw the replay, I was like ‘Man, this guy could have ended my career right here,'” Diaz said. “I understand they called it a legal slide, but out of what I’ve been trained and what I’ve been told, that was not a legal slide.”
Diaz, starting for the second straight day while Francisco Cervelli dealt with flu-like symptoms, acknowledged he was in some pain but was never close to being removed as a precaution.
“For me to come out of that game, he needed to break my leg,” Diaz said.