MESA, Arizona -- Tuesday's 5-4 Cubs win over the Texas Rangers was a perfect example of how this team can put together victories during this regular season.*
* if everything falls just the right way.
Tuesday, it did. After Chris Rusin got into trouble in the first two innings, giving up a pair of runs in each frame, he settled down and retired nine of the last 10 Rangers he faced. During the regular season, a starter on a roll like that would certainly have been allowed to go at least six, maybe seven. And the bullpen did an excellent job in relief of Rusin; Shawn Camp, Carlos Marmol, James Russell and Blake Parker threw four innings, allowing just one hit and one walk. The surprise there: the walk wasn't Marmol's. He had a 1-2-3 inning. Granted, against Rangers minor leaguers, but still, he was making his pitches, and keeping them in the zone.
Meanwhile, the Cubs were coming back with home runs. A two-run homer by Alfonso Soriano in the first inning took one bounce into the parking lot, nearly clearing the scoreboard. Darwin Barney's home run in the second inning took one bounce off my hand. Literally. The ball bounced on the lawn right in front of me, off the net covering the scoreboard, and into and out of my right hand, behind the fence in front of the board where another guy leaped over the fence and got it before I could make a move in that direction.
Oh, well. All of this was off Alexi Ogando, someone the Rangers are counting on to be part of their rotation this year.
The score remained tied until the sixth inning, when Rangers reliever Johan Yan walked Welington Castillo. Castillo went to second on a bouncing single up the middle by Luis Valbuena, and then to third when Barney hit into a double play. It didn't look good when pinch-hitter Scott Hairston went behind in the count, but Yan uncorked a pitch that got away from catcher Konrad Schmidt (I thought it was a wild pitch, as it bounced, but Schmidt was charged with a passed ball) and Castillo raced across the plate. Well, maybe not "raced", given Castillo's speed, but he did make a heads-up baserunning play with what turned out to be the winning run.
This might not happen all that often this season, but given that this was the first day that Dale Sveum put his Opening Day lineup on the field, it was nice to see solid starting (even from someone who won't make the rotation), timely hitting and excellent bullpen work. And, given that Scott Baker is likely going to be pushed back in his return from Tommy John surgery, it can't hurt to have Rusin stretched out to fill in as a starter if necessary. Rusin has posted a 2.50 ERA and 0.89 (!) WHIP in 18 innings so far this spring -- with just one walk. That's pretty impressive.
With all the run-scoring early, the first three innings of this game dragged on for over an hour and it looked like one of those three-hour-plus affairs was going to be our fate Tuesday afternoon. However, as Rusin and the Cubs bullpen mowed down Rangers hitters (21 of the last 24 were retired), the game picked up pace and ended in a very reasonable two hours, 29 minutes.
Attendance watch: 10,024, which included a brisk walkup sale, saw this game. That makes the total attendance at Mesa this spring 97,972 in 13 dates, an average of 7,536. Even if the Cubs sell out all four of their remaining home dates -- an unlikely happening -- they'd still be down about 10 percent from last year's average. They are expecting close to a sellout Saturday when the Angels make their only 2013 visit to HoHoKam.
Wednesday is an off day. After playing three straight split-squad games over the weekend, the Cubs probably need it. Another split-squad affair is on the docket for Thursday -- this game was added to the schedule after it came out, so some schedules might not list the game to be played in Tucson Thursday against the Dodgers. The game is a charity game benefitting the Christina-Taylor Green Foundation, a worthy cause; if you're in the Tucson area, it'd be well worth your time. That game will be at 3:05 CT, no radio/audio/TV coverage, and Scott Feldman will pitch against the Dodgers' Stephen Fife.
At 9:05 CT Thursday, the Cubs play their first night game of the spring with Jeff Samardzija pitching against the Mariners' Jon Garland. Garland, who did not pitch at all in 2012, looks like he's going to make the Mariners' rotation. Thursday night's game will be carried on WGN radio.