On a day when he was hoping to go over the top in the All-Star Game Final Vote, Anthony Rizzo found himself in the middle of a much different fray. In the ninth inning of Thursday afternoon's Cubs-Reds game — ultimately a 6-4 win for Chicago — he tried to take on the entire Cincinnati bench.
Tensions that had already been elevated by a trio of hit-by-pitches reached their peak during the top of the ninth, with the score tied 4-4. Heat-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman came on to pitch for the Reds and whiffed righty pinch-hitter Justin Ruggiano, then sailed the first two pitches of the next at-bat — 101 and 100 mph, respectively — over the head of lefty Nate Schierholtz and to the backstop.
Though almost certainly unintentional, Chapman's wildness provoked the Cubs' ire, and came after both Rizzo and catcher John Baker had been hit by pitches earlier in the game. Rizzo got plunked in the first inning by Reds starter Homer Bailey, and Baker got drilled by Bailey in the fourth. Cincinnati also had a batter hit, when Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks — making his MLB debut — nailed shortstop Zack Cozart in the sixth.
After striking Schierholtz out, Chapman fanned the flames by staring down the Cubs' dugout, with several players, including Rizzo and Chris Coghlan, barking back at him. Chapman then brushed the left-handed Baker back with a 1-0 heater (101 mph); when Baker worked a five-pitch walk, he proceeded to celebrate with extreme theatricality. He tossed his bat away, gave a Kirk Gibson-esque fist-pump, undid his elbow guard and finally pointed skyward, like Sammy Sosa after a home run, all before trotting down to first base. Here's the GIF via Kazuto Yamazaki.
A bit much, perhaps? Chapman finished the inning by getting pinch-hitter Junior Lake to ground out, but continued to egg the Cubs on by waving his glove hand dismissively at their dugout, such that by the time Chicago station WGN returned from its mid-inning commercial break, both benches had cleared. Not shown in the above supercut: Rizzo had taken his position at first base, but after hearing something provocative from the Reds' dugout, he dropped his glove and hat as if to take on the entire team, with his fellow Cubs following suit. Here's a Vine via Matt Clapp:
According to WGN's Len Kasper, Rizzo and Chapman ended up nose to nose, though on the WGN video, it’s Alfredo Simon who got in Rizzo's face pretty quickly and prevented things from escalating. No punches were thrown but a whole lot of grappling ensued between the two sides, and while nobody was ejected, umpires warned both benches.
Beyond the extracurricular activity, the win by the Cubs was notable for a couple of other reasons. Playing in just his second major league game, Chicago rookie second baseman Arismendy Alcantara went 4-for-5 — his first major league hits — highlighted by a two-run double in the fifth, a triple in the 10th, and the go-ahead run scored in the 12th after an infield single and a Luis Valbuena two-run triple.
Meanwhile, Bailey left the game in the sixth inning due to a patellar strain in his right knee. For the moment, the team plans for him to make his next start, which won’t happen until after the All-Star break — making it merely a glancing blow for a team that the previous night had seen Billy Hamilton leave the game due to a tight left hamstring and lost Brandon Phillips for approximately six weeks due to a torn ligament in his left thumb.
Oh, and moments after the end of the game, MLB announced that Rizzo had indeed won the NL Final Vote, no doubt fueled by the extra #VoteRizzo publicity that came with his heel turn.