By Sam Zuba-
WRIGLEY FIELD (CBS) Anthony Rizzo isn’t going to propel the Cubs to first place in the NL Central.
He’s not going to hit 40 home runs, nor will he earn MVP honors this season.
Since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer traded for the 22-year-old Rizzo, the duo’s first meaningful move in Chicago, Cubs fans have tabbed the first baseman as the savior of their franchise – one who simply needed a few at-bats in Triple-A Iowa before he could shoot over to Chicago and rescue the struggling Cubs.
In his Cubs debut Tuesday night, Rizzo collected two hits, including a tie-breaking RBI double in the fourth as the Cubs earned a 5-3 victory over the Mets.
While he impressed in his debut, Rizzo has played the role of savior before, failing miserably. Last season in San Diego, he was again called up from Triple-A to transform the Padres’ offense. Instead, he hit .141 with one homer and nine RBIs in 49 games.
“It’s kind of de ja vu all over again, but it will be a much different (outcome) this time,” Rizzo said.
Instead of flying in as Superman, Rizzo understands his call up is just the first step of many in the master plans laid out by Epstein and Hoyer to turn the Cubs from laughable losers into perennial champions, using a home-grown strategy to create sustained success.
“I think there are a lot of good things to come,” Rizzo said. “Hopefully we can look back and this will be one of the first steps.”
Since news of Rizzo’s call up broke Monday, the North Side has been buzzing in anticipation. Dozens of media members packed into the Cubs’ cramped media room to hear from Rizzo, whose .342 batting average, 23 home runs and 62 RBIs in Iowa essentially forced his call up.
In essence, Chicago has placed 104 years of expectations on the shoulders of Rizzo, who, in his own words, is still just a kid.
“You see with everything that’s going on today how much pressure is taken off a lot of people,” manager Dale Sveum said. “Unfortunately, it’s put on him. … That’s why we like him so much. We think he can handle a lot. He’s going to be in this lineup for a long time. We felt today was the day and hopefully he isn’t out of the lineup for a long, long time.”
Rizzo’s road to Chicago has been a long one. He’s ripped the cover off the ball for months, making the minor leagues look easy, while he waited for that inevitable call from the Cubs front office.
Still, he believes his call up came at the perfect time. As recently as a month ago, Rizzo said he wasn’t ready for the majors.
“With all the clamor about a month ago, I was still getting away with things at the Triple-A level that you can’t get away with here,” Rizzo said. “I think just staying down for an extra month really helped me out.”
As the Cubs work through a three-game series with the Mets, their Major-League worst record leaves little to be excited about. Rizzo’s call up provided a bright spot on this forgettable season, with all in agreement that this is the first step of many to bring the Cubs back to relevance.
“It’s one step in the direction we’re trying to head to where our young players are developed,” Sveum said. “He’s finally developed and it’s time to stick him in your lineup and see what he can do.”
As the Cubs took the field Tuesday night, two things should have stood out: Rizzo at first base and Starlin Castro at shortstop. Other than that, nothing else mattered.
“That’s how I want it to be – me and him leading this team,” Castro said. “We’re young and he’s very good. Let’s see what happens.”
Sam Zuba is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and 670TheScore.com. You can follow him on Twitter here @SamZuba.