Anthony Rizzo ready for first taste of Yankees vs. Red Sox in the postseason
A one-game playoff is nothing for Anthony Rizzo, who once played in a little thing called Game 7 of the 2016 World Series on a team trying to break a 108-year championship drought.
“That experience definitely helps,” he said prior to the AL Wild Card Game. “When I was younger, I think I was naive to experience and the importance of it. But as you go through it a few different times at different stages of your career, you realize the importance of your routine and keeping everything the same and not doing anything else.”
Not to mention that the Yankees just played three huge playoff-like games in Fenway Park less than two weeks ago, so he’s had that kind of pressure-cooker experience within the recent past.
“When we were here last weekend, it was a monster series for us to get back in the wild-card in the thick of it. It was that atmosphere that we're going to feel tonight so it's the same mentality going into it,” he said.
One other thing Rizzo understands? Just how crazy a huge rivalry can be, as Cubs-Cardinals, while not quite on the level of Yankees-Red Sox, is also one for the ages.
“This is what I grew up watching all the time; I feel like every Sunday night, it was the Red Sox and the Yankees on TV, so that's what I always grew up watching,” he said. “Now, getting to be a part of it, and coming here when we were here 10 days ago was really special. And tonight is going to be really special as well. Just this atmosphere, I can't say it enough, just taking it in, enjoying the moment and just having fun. This is the greatest rivalry in baseball, and it's going to be a great night and hopefully we win by a lot.”
Rizzo grew up in South Florida, but he does remember one huge do-or-die Yankees-Red Sox game from when he was 14, one his skipper had a big hand in, and how he and his friends made a game within the game that turned out to be something he took with him to the pros.
“I have a lot of memories of just sitting in my living room with one of my best friends doing different signs and gestures when guys would get hits, and we'd be superstitious and keep doing it. And we were the reason why some of those comebacks would happen,” Rizzo laughed. “And then playing now for all these years, you just appreciate it. Popping champagne the other day, you don't know when you're going to do it again. You don't know when you're going to get your next opportunity. And it's a good feeling.”
Nearly 18 years after all that, Rizzo nearly ended up back with the Red Sox, who drafted him out of high school, but instead came to the Yankees – and so he’ll enter the do-or-die game from the visitors’ dugout.
“Every year, I say they're rumors until they're not, and that was the hottest of July…but when I found out about the Yankees, there wasn't much talk or any other rumors,” Rizzo said. “But that's why I always say they're just rumors until they happen. And it's not like I was, oh, I'm going to Boston. I'm going to Boston. I saw it, I heard it. Friends would text me about it. But now being on the other side, I think this is great. It's great for baseball, and hopefully for the fans, it's a good game.”
Pressure is the name of the game with the pinstripes, but then again, Rizzo also did break that curse of the Billy Goat, so he knows all about it.
“I was on a pretty high profile team before, so coming from one franchise like that to another, you see the similarities. Getting traded for the first time midseason was very difficult, but I think through my past experiences and what my routine is and how I go about preparing daily will never change,” he said. “The guys were really, really welcoming to me, and being able to fit in right away was my biggest thing. Just being able to come in and be myself…the core has been here a little while together, but just how engaging everyone was and how close the group is made it fairly easy, a kind of seamless transition.”
Tonight may be Rizzo’s first playoff game in pinstripes, but he hopes it’s not the last – although he’s not ready to ponder on if that will be the case if tonight’s result isn’t a win.
“As far as staying here long term, that's out of my hands. This game is crazy, and you never know what's going to happen,” he said. “I'm just looking forward to tonight and really enjoying this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroWFAN