Anthony Rizzo: “our goal is San Francisco”

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The Team Italy-Athletics game just ended. The A’s won 4-3, with the final out coming when an Italian player was gunned down at the plate. Not too bad for a split squad major league team playing a WBC underdog.

I spoke with Anthony Rizzo on the field after the game. Rizzo hit a long homer off the scoreboard in right-center, which looked like it could have gone 50 more feet if it needed to.  While Rizzo will likely be back with the Cubs next week or so, he’s relishing his time with Team Italy.

“Our goal is San Francisco,” Rizzo said when asked what he hopes to get out of the WBC. Referring, of course, to the WBC final.  When asked if that was realistic he said “Absolutely. Anything is possible.” I wonder if he’d say that in a candid environment, but he seemed sincere in the moment. No, Team Italy is not expected to do much here, but Rizzo is certainly in the head space of a player who is playing meaningful games right now.

He said as much, noting that it’s nice to play games that matter. Which, having talked to a lot of players this past week, I think is something most of them crave. Spring Training is a time of renewal and all of that, but after a week or so, it also becomes a bit of a slog for some of these guys. Rizzo may not have as strong a connection to Team Italy as he does the Chicago Cubs, but the few WBC games he plays will have a greater sense of urgency and purpose to them than Cubs exhibitions, and I can imagine how appealing that is to these guys right now.

Oh, final note: I asked Rizzo how he liked being called “Anthony RIT-tso” by the P.A. announcer (and his name is phonetically-spelled that way in the press materials). He rather digs it. He said it a couple of times, rolling it off his tongue.

“I think I’ll enjoy that this week,” he said.

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).