CHICAGO — Star slugger Anthony Rizzo hit a soft liner for the Chicago Cubs’ final out, which only seemed fitting.
While the rest of Chicago’s lineup can take consolation knowing Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is about to get a few days off, Rizzo and shortstop Addison Russell won’t share in that small solace. The duo that totaled 204 RBIs in the regular season is a combined 2 for 45 through six games in the postseason.
Kershaw only underscored their struggles during Los Angeles’ 1-0 win Sunday night that tied the NL Championship Series at a game apiece.
Kershaw held Chicago to two hits over seven innings and Kenley Jansen finished with two perfect innings, but that 1-2 punch could quiet Murderers’ Row.
The other Cubs have done plenty of damage, with six players getting a hit in an 8-4 Game 1 victory. Rizzo and Russell, however, were a combined 0 for 9 Saturday night before going hitless in six at-bats in Game 2.
Rizzo said changing his plate approach at this point in the series would be foolish. While it sounds counterintuitive, he’s learned that patience is the quickest way to end a slump.
“I don’t think it’s fair to everyone trying to get six, seven, eight hits at one time. I’ve done that before in my career,” he laughed ruefully, “and it doesn’t work.
“You just keep going through the process,” he added. “Keep battling, keep grinding.”
Rizzo and Russell were key contributors for baseball’s best regular season team, but both have made every pitcher look unhittable in October, even as Chicago rolled past San Francisco in four games during an NL Division Series.
“We’ve been taking some good hacks,” said Russell, whose tailspin actually began at the end of the regular season. “They’re just not falling.”
Rizzo batted .292 with 32 home runs and 109 RBIs during the regular season. He’s gone 1 for 23 in the playoffs with just a single and three walks, including the only one Kershaw issued in seven innings.
When Rizzo got to 3-0 in that at-bat, he was bristling for a pitch to hit.
“No doubt,” he said. “It’s a 1-0 game at that point. One swing changes that.”
He nearly did that in the fourth inning, turning a 1-1 fastball from Kershaw into a towering shot that cleared the outfield wall in right by plenty — it landed on Sheffield Avenue, behind Wrigley Field — but hooked just outside the foul pole. Kershaw threw high and tight on the next pitch, then coaxed Rizzo into grounding out.
Rizzo was hoping for a second bite at the long ball in the seventh. But Kershaw walked him on the next pitch.
“Anytime you can get on,” Rizzo said, his voice trailing off.
Russell hit only .238 in the regular season, but contributed plenty of power, with 21 homers and 95 RBIs. Yet, like Rizzo, he’s got only a single in his 22 at-bats. He sat out the Cubs’ playoff run last year due to an injury, but he said that lack of experience wasn’t an excuse.
“He got ahead early and he throws strikes,” Russell said. “He had his stuff tonight. … I’ve got to learn to grind out the at-bats better, extend the pitchers more.”
Kershaw yielded only two hits in seven innings. Tough as he was on Rizzo, the left-hander dominated Russell, who grounded out in his first at-bat then produced a pair of routine flyouts.
Rizzo said neither he nor Russell had a reason to hang their heads, at least on this night.
“We just faced the best pitcher on the planet,” he said.