Cubs' Rizzo gets a good laugh after striking out Freeman

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ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman loved facing Anthony Rizzo in a lopsided game Wednesday night.

He just didn’t like striking out.

Freeman, the reigning NL MVP of the Atlanta Braves, was 4 for 4 before stepping in against Rizzo, the Cubs’ first baseman who had pleaded with manager David Ross to let him face Freeman with Chicago wanting to save its bullpen in the seventh inning of a 10-0 loss.

“Obviously I’ve gotten to know Anthony over the years and our friendship has grown,” Freeman said. “We’ve gotten real close. I just wish I didn’t strike out.”

Both players were smiling broadly as Rizzo leaned in to get the signs with Freeman in the batter’s box. They didn’t stop grinning throughout the at-bat, even when Freeman whiffed on a 61 mph curveball.

Rizzo started playfully taunting Freeman once he was certain to face him.

“I was on the on-deck circle (in the top of the seventh), and I had a straight shot to Freddie,” Rizzo said. “I was kind of loosening my arm up. ‘I want you,’ pointing at him. It was fun.

"When Rossie asked if I wanted to pitch, obviously I’m not going to try to blow it out and hurt myself by any means, but I had to pitch around (Ronald Acuña Jr.) because he can do a lot of damage. Freddie was hot, 4 for 4, but the end of the day he’s 4 for 5 with a punchout and it helped lighten the mood here.”

Rizzo made his second career relief appearance — first since 2018 — and recorded his first strikeout. He retired the first batter he faced, Johan Camargo, and walked Acuña before Freeman stepped in.

None of his five pitches to Freeman topped 73 mph.

“I couldn’t stop laughing as I was going up to the plate,” Freeman said. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”

As soon as he struck out Freeman, Rizzo handed the ball to Ross, who came in to make a pitching change that sent Rizzo back to first and brought infielder Matt Duffy to the mound.

Freeman was still in good humour after the game, particularly after the three-time defending NL East champion Braves won their third straight over the Cubs and moved back to .500 for the first time since April 10.

“Oh gosh, but it’s been a good week,” Freeman said. “Some good laughs for a lot of people. That’s what baseball is. That’s what sports is — to put smiles on people’s faces. I was on the wrong side of it tonight but I’m OK with it. I’m sure a lot of people got some good smiles and laughs because that’s what it’s all about.”

For Ross, the Rizzo experiment helped lighten the mood in the Cubs’ dugout. Chicago has lost five straight.

“These guys are putting in a lot of work,” Ross said. “I’m super thankful for how hard they’re working and when you have a night like tonight you just take a mental break and enjoy it. That was a nice moment for Rizz. He told me he wanted to face Freddie so we let him do that. That was able to lighten the mood a little bit and then get to work tomorrow and try to win a baseball game.”

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George Henry, The Associated Press