Cubs Use Long Ball Again; Offense Solid In 9-5 Win Over Brewers

What a great day.

First, the weather was better than it's been in 95% of the 34 Opening Days I've attended (1971, 1973, 1974, then every year since 1979 except 1981)... game time temp was announced as 58, but it had to be a bit warmer than that at the park, probably in the low 60's, with hazy sunshine most of the day. Despite that, the Cubs turned the lights on just before game time.

The wind, blowing from right field to left field, had no impact on any of the four home runs in the game -- three of them hit by Cubs in a 9-5 win over the Brewers. Once again, the Cubs scored most of their runs (a Star Trek-like seven of nine) on home runs, but unlike the other wins this season, homers weren't the entire story. The Cubs banged out 13 hits; four players (Marlon Byrd, Derrek Lee, Xavier Nady and even Alfonso Soriano) had multi-hit games. That's the way to do it -- get lots of baserunners, then when the homers come, they score lots of runs. There were a pair of two-run jacks (Ramirez and Jeff Baker) and the three-run shot by Nady that began the Cub scoring. Baker's home run reached Waveland and was caught on the fly by our own ballhawk -- I hope he'll post here with the entire story.

Meanwhile, Ryan Dempster was throwing another good game -- his only real mistake was the three-run homer hit by Ryan Braun. I was surprised that Lou left him in to start the 7th inning; Dempster's total of 114 pitches was high for this early in the season (it's just three short of the highest count for anyone so far this year). It almost screamed out, "I DON'T TRUST MY BULLPEN!" Finally, James Russell relieved Dempster and struck out Jim Edmonds and Prince Fielder -- I really like Russell and maybe, at last, Lou has that LOOGY he's sought almost the entire time he's managed here.

After that, Jeff Samardzija came in and did a nice job, getting three infield outs (two grounders and a foul pop) and, since he threw only 12 pitches after sitting for a week, I'd have liked to see Lou leave the Shark in, since it wasn't a save situation. Carlos Marmol looked shaky, but was bailed out on a pretty line-drive double play to end the game. Lesson: don't put your closer into situations like that!

I did not have a lot of time to walk around the ballpark to take in the changes today, due to the huge crush of people that arrived early, plus saying hello to everyone I hadn't seen all winter. The announced crowd of 41,306 didn't seem that large -- there were empty seats in the upper deck corners, as well as the no-alcohol section down the LF line. It's possible some of those people decided that standing in the lower deck was a better option; the SRO sections looked pretty full.

A few observations from what I did see:

  • I didn't have any of the new food selections, but my friend Carole had one of the new bison hot dogs and said it was "tasty".
  • The restrooms have received a new paint job and much brighter lighting. Also, now above the troughs, there's a shelf where you can rest your beer. (How thoughtful!)
  • I like the player banners outside the main entrance. I don't think they overwhelm the park and they do dress it up. I'd like to see them stay, or maybe they could rotate them during the season.
  • The left-field wall past the bullpen in foul territory, which was hidden under construction tarps most of the winter, was completely reconstructed including new padding that goes all the way to the bullpen -- this might have prevented Soriano's knee injury last year. I also learned that the whole wall was moved four inches in -- thus creating four more inches of foul territory. We decided that would have been just enough so that a certain play in the 2003 NLCS would have been made.
  • Security people are now wearing (under their jackets) shirts that say "EVENT STAFF". These are different from the "Fan Ambassadors", who are wearing shirts that say "FAN AMBASSADOR", at least the ones that are intended to be visible; some of them, I know, are supposed to be incognito.
  • Nice to sit with BCB's drewishdrewid and the lovely Mrs. drewishdrewid today.

I'll have a closer look around the ballpark on Wednesday and post about anything else I see then. In the meantime, this was a nice way to christen the home season, and a somewhat rare event; the Cubs have, since 2001, gone only 4-6 in home openers, although that makes two in a row. The Brewers should be pretty ripe for defeating in this series -- they have now allowed six home runs in their last two games and 13 overall so far this season.

Finally, via tweet from Carrie, good news about Derrek Lee:

X-rays of #Cubs Derrek Lee's right thumb were negative and he's listed as day to day. No fracture. He originally hurt it last Wed in Atlanta

Lee had to leave today's game after the fourth inning; hopefully, he'll be OK by Wednesday. The good news is that unlike other years when Lee has missed time, there is a competent replacement (Nady) who can play the position and also hit.

Finally, I'm not going to do this every day, but thought you'd like to see the scorecard from today's game. Enjoy the off day tomorrow.

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