Fourteen miles south of Alfonso Rivas’ hometown, the Chicago Cubs needed a clutch hit from the 25-year-old first baseman.
If Rivas felt any pressure this week playing in front of family and friends at Petco Park, he certainly didn’t show it.
One day after connecting on a two-run homer, Rivas had an opportunity to salvage a victory for the Cubs in Wednesday’s series final after the bullpen squandered a late lead. Rivas hit a two-run single with the bases loaded in the eighth inning to break the tie. Right-hander Rowan Wick’s two-inning save secured the Cubs’ 7-5 win.
The Cubs took two of three in San Diego for their first series win since opening weekend against the Milwaukee Brewers. Manager David Ross lauded Rivas’ approach.
“He’s really handling the moment well,” Ross said. “He’s got such a calm demeanor about him and that’s why he looks so smooth at first and in the box. There’s not a lot to his swing. He’s just trying to put the barrel on the ball.”
The Cubs, however, can’t seem to avoid injuries lately. Left-handed reliever Sean Newcomb on Wednesday became the 13th player on the injured list with a left ankle sprain suffered in the outfield Sunday during batting practice.
Losing shortstop Nico Hoerner for any notable time would be tough to overcome, especially defensively. Hoerner was diagnosed with a right ankle sprain after exiting the game in the bottom of the second inning. Initial imaging didn’t reveal any broken bones, though the swelling around his ankle must decrease before the Cubs can determine the severity. Ross believes Hoerner will be OK after a couple of days off.
Hoerner collided with second-base umpire Dan Iassogna in shallow right-center field during Jurickson Profar’s triple in the first inning.
Hoerner, shifted in shallow right for the at-bat, started running to his position as the cutoff man while Iassogna began moving toward shallow center to get a clearer view of Jason Heyward’s play on the ball. Iassogna and Hoerner never saw each other while watching the ball, resulting in their feet getting tangled and knocking both to the ground.
Via a pool reporter, Iassogna said his collision with Hoerner was the first time that occurred in the outfield during his career. Iassogna’s assignment as the second-base umpire requires him to go out toward the fly ball so he can determine whether it’s a catch, home run or anything in between.
He spoke with Ross to see how Hoerner was doing and planned to check on him after the game. Iassogna hopes Hoerner won’t land on the injured list because of the play.
“I’m always trying to do the same thing. I’m seeing the ball and trying to pick up the fielder,” Iassogna said. “When I made my initial look I didn’t see anybody. I thought I had an open road and then we backed into each other.
“I didn’t know who it was or what happened until I looked down and saw it was him.”
Hoerner initially remained in the game, striking out in the top of the second. Ildemaro Vargas replaced him when the Cubs returned to the field for the bottom of the inning. When the injury occurred, Hoerner initially wasn’t optimistic, but he felt better after getting treatment on the ankle during the game.
“In the shift and things like that sometimes we’re in different places than people are used to,” Hoerner said. “I was watching the ball just like the umpire was and I was on the ground before I really realized what happened. We’re doing our jobs and weird things happen sometimes.”
Willson Contreras’ strong start continued with an opposite-field solo home run in the first inning. The Cubs tacked on four runs in the third thanks to Patrick Wisdom (RBI single), Frank Schwindel (two-run double to cap an 11-pitch at-bat) and Jason Heyward (RBI single) coming through with runners on base against Padres starter Nick Martinez.
Home runs by Eric Hosmer and Luke Voit, the latter’s second of the game, in seventh set up the need for Rivas’ big hit the next inning.
“You have a plan, you have an approach and stick to that, don’t really freak out or anything that,” Rivas said. “That’s what I was really trying to hammer down, and I got a good pitch to hit.”
Keegan Thompson received the phone call around 11 p.m. Tuesday to learn he was getting the start for the Cubs bullpen game. He stuck to his typical warmup routine, not wanting to deviate from what has been working for him. Thompson held the Padres to two runs in four innings.
“I started with the same mindset as a bullpen outing,” Thompson said. “I don’t want to change something up today for one outing.”