Making the jump from Spring Training exhibitions to all out competitive games in the middle of March cannot be easy. But first baseman Anthony Rizzo made it look easy on Thursday. Rizzo was slotted into the third spot in the Italy order in the First Round, Pool D opener against Mexico.
Rizzo singled in his first at bat and eventually came around to score the second run for Italy, giving the “visiting” team a temporary 2-0 lead after one half inning. It was a bit of a back and forth affair until Mexico seemingly took the lead for good in the fifth. Unfortunately for the Mexicans and their swarm of fans, Rizzo was not done making his mark in his first WBC appearance. The Cubs left handed slugger launched a warning track bomb with one out in the top of the ninth. Rizzo had thought in his mind that it had a chance to be a home run, but at worst knew it would be enough to be a game tying sac fly.
Luckily for Rizzo and the Italians, the ball popped in and out of left fielder Edgar Gonzalez’s glove. Rizzo was credited with a double and two RBI, putting Italy up one. With the Mexicans favored to win the game prior to the first pitch, it should also be noted that Rizzo registered his clutch hit against San Francisco closer Sergio Romo, the same Romo that helped carry the Giants to a World Series title in 2012.
How much of an underdog was Italy in Pool D? Several Cubs members, including manager Dale Sveum, pledged a combined $500 to Rizzo’s foundation if Italy won even one game. Looks like Rizzo got that bonus out of the way quick and his fellow Italians are now in position to do more than just try to have a respectable showing in Pool play.
More importantly for the Cub fan base, the tournament experience alone was a plus for Rizzo. But his ability to play a part in team Italy’s success is the cherry on top. The U.S. jury may still be out on the significance of the WBC, but make no mistake this game had meaning for the Mexican squad. A positive tournament for Rizzo only boosts his confidence to one day perform well in a similarly high pressure environment that is the MLB playoffs.