Pirates 1, Cubs 0: You've Heard This One Before

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

The first game of 2014 sounded a lot like many games in 2013.

AMARILLO, Texas -- From the boxscore of the Cubs' 1-0, 10-inning loss to the Pirates Monday, in front of the largest regular-season crowd in PNC Park history:

Team RISP: 0-for-11.

You have, I am sure, heard that one before -- many times, last year, the Cubs getting plenty of baserunners but not able to bring them home. Most of the baserunners were... Emilio Bonifacio, who went 4-for-5 in his Cubs debut. (OK, OK, I admit it -- this was a pretty good signing.)

Jeff Samardzija went seven solid innings, making this the second straight Opening Day he shut out the Pirates at Pittsburgh. Personally, I would have left him in to throw the eighth, since he had thrown only 89 pitches, but I can't quibble with Rick Renteria's choices... not even the choice of Carlos Villanueva to pitch the bottom of the 10th inning. That's something Dale Sveum never would have done with Villanueva, who is in the rotation but won't make his first start until Saturday. Using him in this way could have saved several relievers, as he was double-switched into the "last-out" spot in the order, and thus he could have thrown three innings.

"Could have" became "uh-oh" as Villanueva threw seven decent pitches to Neil Walker before Walker sent Carlos' eighth pitch into the seats at PNC for a walkoff win. On the road listening to the Pirates radio team via Sirius XM, they reminded listeners that the Bucs had won an Opening Day in just this way in 1965, when Bob Bailey hit a walkoff against Juan Marichal for a 1-0, 10-inning win.

The Pirates radio team, Greg Brown and former Pirates pitcher Bob Walk, aren't all that great. Brown's pretty average on play-by-play and Walk is master-of-the-obvious on color commentary. They didn't even get the two replay review calls in the game quite right. Renteria had the first one -- and thus, the first managerial challenge in major-league history -- when he came out to challenge this play:

With the game tied 0-0, the Cubs had runners at first and second with nobody out when pitcher Jeff Samardzija bunted toward the third-base side. Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano fielded the ball and threw to third baseman Pedro Alvarez to get the runner, and he then fired to second baseman Neil Walker, who was covering first.

Samardzija signaled safe as he crossed the bag, but first-base umpire Bob Davidson called the pitcher out.

That is, in my view, the perfect time to challenge. You can't "challenge" after the sixth inning, and in this case it's a close game and a close play, worth using the challenge even though there was a decent chance it wouldn't work. The play was "confirmed" -- and I put that in quotes because that indicates there was clear video evidence that the call was correct. A call can also stay as called if there isn't clear evidence to overturn; in that case the play will be indicated as "stands."

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle came out in the top of the 10th to ask for a replay review on a pickoff attempt on Bonifacio where he was ruled safe -- and that's not a "challenge," though the Pirates radio crew said it was. As this article explaining the review system states:

As per the agreement, each manager will have at least one challenge per game and would get an extra one if his initial challenge proves correct. Make a mistake with the first challenge and the manager is out of chances, though the umpire crew chief can decide to use replay on reviewable calls starting in the seventh inning.

The latter is what happened for Hurdle; I suspect that almost all requests of this nature will be granted. The delays, as noted by the Pirates radio crew, were 1:20 for the first review and 1:40 for the second -- not too long, and probably shorter than an argument by Hurdle would have been on the pickoff play.

So, the way I see it, the system works, and works well -- the call was corrected in the case of the Bonifacio pickoff, where video showed he was clearly out.

I'm very happy that MLB finally has entered the replay-review era; this system isn't perfect, but it appears to have worked, today at least, even though one call went against the Cubs. That's the way it should work -- get the calls right. Just remember that any reviews asked for up to the sixth inning are "challenges," while after that they are "requests."

About the game result -- well, what can you do? This team has to figure out ways to score with RISP. If the rest of the starting staff can do what Shark did today (while, at the same time, increasing his trade value), the Cubs will have opportunities to win. Remember that they won last year's Opening Day game, and in fact took two of three from the Pirates in that series, before the Cubs' season went south, and the Pirates' went to the postseason.

I had a chance to turn on the game on TV on my phone when I stopped for lunch and had a look at the new alternate road uniform. It was something I didn't think I would care for when I saw the prototype unveiled last fall, but I have to say I didn't dislike it as much as I thought I would, and it might just grow on me. At least it's road gray to match the gray pants, and I'm a traditionalist when it comes to away uni's -- I prefer the grays. So, on first review... good work, Cubs.

Now we must wait almost 48 hours until the next game, Wednesday at PNC Park, with Edwin Jackson facing Charlie Morton. I'll be on the road again tomorrow, arriving back in Chicago sometime in the evening, but stop on by here; we'll have plenty to discuss including Erik's Cub Tracks and a Cub System Sonogram from Tim.

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