PHOENIX, Arizona -- It's always a bit of a jarring transition, for me at least, when, after attending a couple dozen games in the sunshine on the berm at spring-training facilities, to go the next day to a huge major-league stadium under the lights.
That is, in fact, one of the reasons a lot of major-league teams play these games on the final weekend of spring training -- to get players accustomed to the larger buildings, and much brighter lights that they will see during the regular season. (The cold weather the Cubs are going to find when they hit Pittsburgh and Chicago next week -- that's a different story.)
The first of a pair of such games at Chase Field for the Cubs ended well, in a 3-1 win over the Diamondbacks, and I'll say this -- if this Cubs team can do what they did Friday night on a regular basis, maybe they will surprise a few people, including me.
Once again, as they did Thursday in Mesa, they manufactured a first-inning run thanks in part to the speed of Emilio Bonifacio, who slapped a double down the left-field line and then scored courtesy of two groundouts.
Meanwhile, Edwin Jackson looked good. Really good -- perhaps the best I've seen him at any time since he signed the four-year deal with the Cubs. He threw four innings, and probably could have gone farther, but since a couple of the final bullpen spots are not nailed down, management wanted to look at other pitchers. Jackson retired 12 of the 13 batters he faced, allowing just a fourth-inning single to Aaron Hill. Best of all, he threw strikes -- no walks allowed.
More of this, please, Edwin.
The rest of the pitching staff did all right, particularly Zac Rosscup, who threw two scoreless innings. He threw just seven pitches in his first inning of work, which is likely why Rick Renteria sent him out for a second frame, in which he gave up a single and a walk, but also started a nice 1-6-3 double play.
Ryan Sweeney continued his hot hitting; after a 3-for-39 start this spring, Sweeney has six hits in his last nine at-bats, perhaps a good sign for the start of the season.
The D'backs scored their only run when, after Pedro Strop had recorded two quick outs in the eighth, Cliff Pennington tripled to right field. Now, this requires a bit of an explanation. The hit was a ground ball that hugged the first-base line. It would have been a tough play, but I think Anthony Rizzo would have scooped the ball up and ended the inning. Dan Vogelbach, who had by then taken over for Rizzo, doesn't have the mobility or the good hands of Rizzo, and the ball got by him. If Vogelbach is ever going to make it in the major leagues, he's going to have to be more mobile at first base. The ball rattled around in the right-field corner, and then Evan Marzilli doubled over Matt Szczur's head to drive in the run.
Jose Veras got himself in trouble with an infield hit and a hit batter in the bottom of the ninth, but induced Pennington to hit a comebacker for the final out. It was the first time Veras had been used in a save situation this spring; in fact, the first time that Strop and Veras were used in the eighth-ninth combination that should be a regular sight this year.
16,361 attended this game, with vast stretches of Chase Field's upper deck empty. That's only about 1,000 more than the Cubs drew at Thursday's game in Mesa. This, despite what a D'backs season-ticket rep told me Friday night -- D'backs season-ticket holders have to buy these two games as part of their package. This year, because Arizona gave up two home dates for their Australia trip, their season-ticket holders bought 81 games. Normally, the rep told me, since they generally host games like this every year, their STH are buying 83 games. These games sell at regular-season prices, but STH get a significant discount (about 25 percent).
The D'backs were outdrawn by the Phoenix Suns, who were playing the New York Knicks just down the street from Chase Field -- the Suns game drew 17,106, in a year when the Suns have surprised just about everyone by posting a 44-29 record, good for seventh in the stacked Western Conference (they'd be third in the weaker East).
Who knows, perhaps the Cubs can pull a similar surprise this year. If they play the way they did Friday night, we'll all be quite pleased.