MESA, Arizona -- In front of about 250 people scattered along the first-base side of Cubs Park Wednesday afternoon, the Cubs defeated the Cubs 5-3.
So the Cubs won! (Yes, they lost, too.)
Since you won't likely see a boxscore of this game anywhere, here's my scorecard from the game (link opens .pdf; apologies for parts that are unreadable). Even with no PA announcer, it was pretty easy to keep track of all the changes, except for #91, who came up to bat and struck out to lead off the bottom of the sixth inning. I'm really not sure at all who that was -- no name on the back of his jersey.
As the purpose of this game was to get pitchers some work and hitters some at-bats, the rules of baseball were bent, just a little bit. In the first two innings, play continued after two out. On three other occasions, the half-inning ended following a walk.
Kyle Hendricks and Eric Jokisch started the game, and both looked solid. Was that shaking off the rust for the hitters, or was it the pitchers being dominant? A little of both, I'd say. Hendricks mixed up his pitches well and did not allow a baserunner in his two innings. Jokisch struck out four, and allowed a couple of ground-ball singles, one to Ryan Sweeney, the other to George Kottaras.
The relievers in this game did not fare as well. Three home runs left the yard, all bouncing well up onto the berm in left field, all likely 400 feet or longer. Justin Ruggiano hit the first unofficial home run at Cubs Park off Tsuyoshi Wada. This is what Ruggiano is supposed to do -- crush the ball off lefthanders. (When he faced righty Jokisch in the first inning, he struck out.) Welington Castillo also homered off Wada, and Christian Villanueva took Neil Ramirez deep in the fifth.
I can't really say anything good about any of the relievers. Beyond those who allowed homers, Arodys Vizcaino walked two in his one inning (though did seem to have good velocity); Brian Schlitter was touched up for a run, although he might have gotten out of his inning if Josh Vitters could have handled Chris Coghlan's double that scooted just out of Vitters' reach down the first-base line. Armando Rivero had a solid inning, striking out a pair. One really nice play was made on a diving catch in left field by Matt Szczur; a run scored but it could have been more if the ball had gotten by him. And Logan Watkins made a nice snag on a ball that hit second base; he threw out Jorge Soler to end the game.
In a game with this few people in the stands, you can really hear all the sounds of the game, the footfalls on the basepaths, the balls smacking into the catcher's glove, players calling each other off, as well as fans yelling (mostly) encouraging words.
One last thing about the game: even though it ran only six innings, they still couldn't get it in under two hours. The total game time was 2:07.
They had one concession stand open. Prices seem a bit higher than they were at HoHoKam Park, and I found one thing really distracting. Right above the opening where you'd place your order, there are large fans blowing cool air straight down. Not only is this uncomfortable for anyone standing there, but it makes it hard for the person taking your order to hear. This is something they ought to work on, I'd think.
And so, the park and the team are ready for the Cactus League opener Thursday afternoon. The game is sold out, and will be televised on WGN-TV beginning at 2 p.m. CT. Jeff Samardzija will start and go two innings, and he'll be followed by Wesley Wright, Alberto Cabrera, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop, Blake Parker, Hector Rondon and Jose Veras (not necessarily in that order), who will throw one inning each. Our old buddy Bronson Arroyo will start for the Diamondbacks.
Here, early, is Thursday's Cubs lineup:
Bonifacio 2B, Valbuena 3B, Castro SS, Rizzo 1B, Lake CF, Castillo C, Ruggiano LF, Olt DH, McDonald RF
The DH is used during many early-spring games, even at N.L. home parks, to give players extra at-bats.
Here are a few short videos I shot of various at-bats during the game, to give you a flavor of the ballpark and the sounds of the game. Just one more day until real, live Cubs baseball against another team!