Best buds Rizzo, Bryant help lift Cubs to long-awaited title
CLEVELAND (AP) Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant have been nearly inseparable since the day they became major league teammates in the spring of 2015, 20-somethings with power and talent to burn.
Their lockers are practically on top of each other in the Chicago Cubs clubhouse. Their names are often squeezed one on top of the other in manager Joe Maddon's lineup. Heck, they even have one of those catchy nicknames typically reserved for Hollywood power couples.
And now ''Bryzzo'' has something else: a world title.
The centerpieces of Theo Epstein's methodical, patient rebuild helped the Cubs shed 108 years of futility early Thursday with one final game of catch in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series. When Bryant fielded the grounder by Cleveland's Michael Martinez and fired it across the diamond to Rizzo at first base, the moment they'd talked about suddenly came to be.
Cubs 8. Indians 7. Curse vanquished. Destiny fulfilled.
And more may be on the way. Bryant is 24. Rizzo is 27. Shortstop Addison Russell is 22. Second baseman Javy Baez, 24. Catcher Willson Contreras, 24. All of them are under team control through at least 2021. More celebrations may lie ahead.
''I think we're going to have more opportunities,'' general manager Jed Hoyer said. ''But the playoffs are really humbling … To think that simply being the most talented team and having the best record, it's still really hard to win. I think this playoff series showed that.''
Maybe, but it helps when your young core learns on the fly, a group personified by Rizzo – the first major piece acquired by Epstein in 2012 – and Bryant – taken with the second overall pick in the 2013 draft.
''This is what you dream for,'' Bryant said. ''I mean, I made the last out of the World Series.''
Well, technically Rizzo made the final out. Something they'd talked about a week ahead of time.
''He said, `If I make the last out, I'm keeping that ball because it's worth a lot of money,''' Bryant said with a laugh.
A memento Rizzo clutched tight as he and Bryant raced to hug each other as their teammates joyously poured onto the Progressive Field turf to put an exclamation point on a season when they finally turned Chicago's century-old tag of lovable losers into something far more refined: champions.
''This is unbelievable,'' Rizzo said. ''It's so exhausting. Looking back on it, this was our 210th game with spring training and playoffs and the season. We deserve this.''
It's an outcome that seemingly was never in doubt from the moment Bryant hit a solo home run in the fourth inning of Game 5, the one that kick-started a season-saving victory and served as the rocket fuel that propelled the franchise to heights not seen since 1908.
The blast off Trevor Bauer tied the game. Rizzo then doubled and scored the go-ahead run. Chicago never trailed again. Not in a 9-3 laugher in Game 6. Not during the clincher, one that featured Bryant and Rizzo right in the middle of the rally that gave the Cubs an early four-run lead.
There Rizzo was again in the 10th after the Indians had improbably tied it off closer Aroldis Chapman with a two-run home run in the seventh. The Indians chose to intentionally walk Rizzo to put runners on first and second with one out, setting up Ben Zobrist for the go-ahead RBI double. Rizzo then raced home for the deciding run on Miguel Montero's single to left.
Bryant, the heavy favorite to win the NL MVP later this month, finished the Series hitting .267 with two home runs. Rizzo hit .360 with a homer and three doubles. And they're just getting started.
''They're the heart of this team,'' said Zobrist, the Series MVP. ''What they've done together in their time is pretty special.''