If Starlin Castro had hit his ninth-inning fly ball to right field half an hour earlier, it would have been a game-winning grand slam.
But as often happens at Wrigley Field, the wind, which was howling out to right field at 25 miles per hour at game time, shifted off Lake Michigan. It wasn't blowing in very hard, but Castro's ball died at the warning track, where Norichika Aoki caught it, and the Cubs' ninth-inning rally fell short. The 7-4 loss to the Brewers is the Cubs' third straight home-opening defeat; their last Wrigley opener that resulted in a win was over these same Brewers, 9-5 on April 12, 2010 (and some of the names in both lineups in that game should amuse you).
If Castro's ball had gone out of the park, it would have matched Willie Smith's famous walkoff home run on Opening Day exactly 44 years ago, April 8, 1969. That led to an exciting season that fell short. This loss is likely to lead to ... more losses.
Here's another thing that could have changed the course of this loss. In the first inning, with runners on first and third and one out, Rickie Weeks hit a chopper right to Luis Valbuena at third. Instead of trying for a double play -- something Weeks hit into three innings later -- Valbuena threw home to try to nail Aoki. After a couple of rundown throws, they got Aoki for the second out. But for some reason, that seemed to unhinge Edwin Jackson, who walked the next two hitters, scoring a run, and then Martin Maldonado cleared the bases with a double into the right-center field gap.
After that, Jackson settled down and threw five more decent innings, though there were still too many walks (five overall, two of which were intentional). He did keep his team in the game long enough for them to attempt to come back; Welington Castillo yanked a home run into the breeze with Alfonso Soriano on base in the second inning to make the score 5-2. That might have been enough for the ninth-inning rally to mean something, but the usually-reliable Shawn Camp got touched up for a pair of runs in the seventh inning. That put the game pretty much out of reach, even with the Cubs rallying off Brandon Kintzler before Jim Henderson came in throwing 96 mile per hour fastballs to end it.
Let's talk about Carlos Marmol's appearance for a moment. When Marmol came in -- to loud booing -- in the eighth inning, Kyuji Fujikawa began to loosen up, before Marmol had even thrown a pitch. Fujikawa did sit down, and Marmol went to work. His inning will show no runs, just one hit, and one walk allowed, with two strikeouts, but it was still not the type of inning that's going to post saves when you need them. Marmol's line shows 25 pitches, 16 strikes, which is good, but it still didn't seem like Marmol was finding the zone often enough to go back into closing.
Let's just say it was an improvement. But that was a pretty low bar to hurdle.
Opening Day's weather was very, very good. After rain ended around 10 a.m., the sun peeked through the clouds, and the game-time temperature of 61 degrees was warmer than probably 80 to 85 percent of the 38 Opening Days I've attended. Naturally, I had forgotten my sunglasses at home, so that pretty much ensured the sunshine. The conditions were very pleasant, despite the strong west-southwest wind.
I'll be talking attendance as usual at the end of each homestand, but I want to know this: who made up the 40,083 attendance figure that was announced? There is absolutely no way 40,000 tickets were sold for this game. The upper-deck boxes down both lines were virtually empty, as were the back corners of the terrace reserved sections. Though the bleachers might have looked pretty full on TV, there were many, many empty spaces. I'll have more estimates after this homestand is over, but my guess for today was about 34,000 in the house, about 37,000 sold. It wasn't anywhere near 40,000.
Rahm Emanuel and 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney were spotted sitting together in box seats near the Cubs dugout Monday afternoon, and though no Wrigley Field renovation deal was announced, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts told reporters things are moving along:
Asked if a deal was imminent, Ricketts replied: "I think it's going in the right direction, and I think we worked through a lot of issues throughout the weekend. Just leave it at that. "I am not going to put a time frame on it because there is kind of a public part of the process that has to happen. But we look forward to getting that public part of the process started."
In the meantime, Wrigley Monday looked pretty much the same as it has the last few years. There were some new permanent ads adjoining the scoreboards on the upper-deck facade; the team played some video highlights on the right-field LED board, the first time I've seen it used for moving video (looked pretty good, almost decent enough for replays if they choose to do that), and scorecard prices didn't go up. Food prices did -- I saw a vendor selling 20-ounce bottles of Pepsi for $5.25, which is highway robbery (you can buy the same bottle at a convenience store for about one-third of that). The scoreboard was completely rehabbed and painted over the winter and looks great; oddly, the "VIS HITS CUBS" at the bottom, which shows the hit counts, is in yellow, but the numbers appeared orange. I was trying to picture where Jumbotrons could go on both sides of the bleachers; there does appear to be room to put them with minimal rooftop blockage (and again, most of the rooftop people today were not watching the game), so I don't see what their issue is.
The Cubs' bats showed some signs of life Monday, but they're going to have to not put themselves in a four-run hole in the first inning to be able to win games. This is not a very good Milwaukee lineup, with two of their biggest hitters (Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez) on the shelf, yet they had 12 hits and seven runs off Cubs pitching. The Cubs responded with nine hits, including Castillo's home run. Not enough, though.
The two teams will do it again Tuesday night, when the weather's not supposed to be nearly as nice. The Cubs should give thanks that their likely biggest crowd of the week came on what will be likely the nicest day of the week. Travis Wood will face Milwaukee's Wily Peralta in the season's first home night game.