Ryan Dempster #36 of the Chicago Cubs throws a first inning pitch in the rain while playing the Pittsburgh Pirates during opening day at Wrigley Field on April 1, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
I don't get it.
I really just don't get it. The Pirates clearly aren't a very good team. Kevin Correia, their starting pitcher, is a step above what they've had much of the last few years, as he had some success for the Giants and Padres. But the Bucs played bad defense today and the Cubs refused to take advantage of it. Then, in a sequence eerily reminiscent of Game One of the 2008 NLDS against the Dodgers, Ryan Dempster got wild, walked the bases loaded and then nearly had Neil Walker struck out on a good breaking ball, which he fouled off.
The next pitch was hit by Walker for a grand slam, the Pirates' first on Opening Day since Roberto Clemente hit one on April 10, 1962 in a 6-0 win over the Phillies. Today, that was enough for a 6-3 win over the Cubs, although the demolition wasn't complete until Dempster, tiring, gave up a two-run homer to Andrew McCutchen in the seventh when he should probably have been removed from the game in the sixth. He'd thrown almost 110 pitches by then.
What is it about the Pirates? Why have they had the Cubs' number last year and today after the Cubs went 32-15 against them from 2007-09? It makes absolutely no sense. The Pirates just aren't a very good team, although Walker, McCutchen, Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez are decent young players.
It rained steadily from about an hour before game time until the seventh inning, about three hours' worth of light to moderate showers. Combine that with the 41-degree game time temperature and swirling winds and that's why, by the fifth inning or so, especially after Walker's slam turned a 2-0 Cubs lead into a deficit, people started streaming out of the ballpark looking for warmer places. Some stuck around until Ron Santo Jr. and his sister Linda Santo Brown sang the 7th inning stretch; there couldn't have been more than about 5,000 of the announced 41,538 left when Aramis Ramirez hit into a game-ending force play. It did look like most of the seats were filled -- as well as a large portion of the standing-room area -- when the game began on time. They seemed absolutely determined to get this one in, despite the steady rain which probably would have held up the start of any game not marked "Opening Day".
The Cubs fashioned a 2-0 lead with some good baserunning, especially by Starlin Castro, who scampered home all the way from first base on a throwing error made by Alvarez on a Marlon Byrd grounder. Later, the Cubs put together three hits for a second run in the third inning. The Pirates kept dropping popups and making plays look difficult, but the Cubs took advantage only one other time, with three singles in the seventh inning, only one of which left the infield. They had two runners on with one out in the inning but could score no more. This was another game that carried on a tradition from last year that we'd rather not see: runners left on base, 10 in all.
So unfortunately, in that, things around the ballpark seemed about the same as last year. Most other things appeared about the same, too; a few new food items and new uniforms for some of the vendors were about the biggest visible changes, as well as the player photo banners around the outside of the park. The rain really squashed any real celebration of the return of spring, especially since it seemed more like winter.
On the other hand, the Cubs lost on Opening Day in 2008 also, although that day at least they looked better. Manager Mike Quade made no excuses after the game, saying simply, "You have to earn what you get, and we didn't earn it. We got beat." A refreshing attitude, anyway. All the Cubs can do is move on and try to win tomorrow, when Carlos Zambrano will face the Pirates' Paul Maholm -- in better weather, with skies clearing and the high in the low 50s.