That wasn't the temperature -- actually, the gametime temp of 39 and a not-so-strong wind of 9 MPH was almost tolerable -- it was the Cubs' creaky offense sputtering out in a 5-3 loss to the Astros, opening Wrigley Field for its 92nd season as the home of the Cubs (94th season overall, including its two after being constructed as the home of the Chicago Whales of the Federal League in 1914; in honor, Howard wore a Whales cap to today's game).
This doesn't bode well if you believe in past performance as a predictor; as pointed out in the game thread, the Cubs have won their home opener each time they have made the postseason since 1938.
Time to reverse such trends, right?
The ballpark hasn't changed much since last year; the Under Armour ads on the outfield doors are the only really visible sign of change, and frankly, after looking at them once to notice that they were there, I paid them no mind the rest of the afternoon. It's easy to tune out advertising at a ballpark if you are focused on the game, and despite the loss, there were some decent signs today.
After giving up back-to-back doubles to lead off the game (two of six doubles the Astros had), Ted Lilly settled down and threw a credible six innings, finally being yanked in the 7th after allowing Humberto Quintero to reach on a dropped third strike and then giving up a single to Woody Williams. Williams wasn't even trying to hit -- he was up there to sacrifice -- but after getting behind him 2-0, Lilly gave him a hittable pitch and Williams bounced it through the pulled-in infield. Fortunately, Michael Wuertz, who's been the best reliever so far this year, put out that rally.
UN-fortunately, Bob Howry sucked again today. He gave up two doubles and what turned out to be the game-winning hit, a 2-run HR to Adam Everett that must have been really hit hard, because several other fly balls that were crushed earlier by both teams stayed in the ballpark, after the wind shifted late in the game from "blowing out to right", as the boxscore indicated, to blowing straight in our faces over the RF wall.
As they did yesterday, the Cubs clawed their way back into the game after spotting the opposition a significant lead, this time 3-0 into the last of the sixth, when Michael Barrett slammed a double into the RF corner with two men on base. Again, hustle by Aramis Ramirez, who scored all the way from first, was a welcome sign. Then, an error on a throw on an infield hit by Jacque Jones allowed the tying run to score from second base; Alfonso Soriano never stopped as he rounded third to score.
Howry couldn't hold that tie, and although Ryan Dempster threw another efficient inning (8 pitches, 7 strikes, including two swinging strikeouts), the Cubs could do nothing against Dan Wheeler, who has apparently supplanted Brad Lidge as the Astros' closer after only one week of the season has passed.
April is a time of renewal and new things; renewing acquaintances with old friends, we had eleven in our group today; myself, Mike and Dave and Phil, Howard and Jon, Jeff & Mark (who will head himself back to northern California where it's at least not frigid soon), John, Carole and her brother Brian... Mark gave us the laugh of the day when he surreptitiously handed Jeff's scorecard to He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, who autographed it.
It was just after that, that the Cubs made their comeback to tie the game. So, we said, if they came back to win, Jeff would have to have his card signed by you-know-who every day. That, however, will not be the case due to the loss. Now, Jeff will only have to burn his clipboard.
Spotted in the bleachers: a guy wearing a Cub home jersey with the name "COLANGELO 1" on the back, I suppose a vote for his preference for the new team owner. Also spotted: BCB reader timeforachange -- hey, nice to meet you this afternoon, as well as Scott, who I've met before, and kaseyi.
Despite the cold and the negative result, being back in Wrigley Field after six months away is something that's very special. We don't know the future of the ballpark, and that will, of course, be subject to debate all year and beyond, but until then I'll be back in the left field corner.
After 24 years of wearing my old Cubs game cap with the old leather sweatband (cold on cold days!) on Opening Day, I decided to change today; I had been meaning to buy one of the new batting practice caps, and did so today, and wore it. Jeff decided it has to go into the cap rotation (I'll be adding it to the cap standings page soon), so it won't be worn tomorrow.
Speaking of tomorrow, when the weather's not supposed to be much better, Jason Marquis will pitch against Chris Sampson, who gave the Cubs nothing when he faced them in Houston last June 7. But that was then and this is now. Remember, the Cubs swept the home-season opening series a year ago, and that got them nowhere.
Finally, life imitates art: the movie "Major League", featuring the Cleveland Indians, was shot in County Stadium in Milwaukee. Now, the Indians will play their home opener in Milwaukee's Miller Park, tomorrow, with two more games Wednesday and Thursday, the first two at night, the Thursday game at noon -- I'm mulling over the idea of driving up there on Thursday, an off day for the Cubs. I'll let you all know.