MESA, Arizona -- If you like watching the future of the Cubs before it arrives at Wrigley Field, Tuesday's 6-4 win over the Athletics, the Cubs' first win in their new spring-training home, was the game for you.
Albert Almora broke a 3-3 tie in the eighth inning with an RBI single up the middle and two batters later, Mike Olt smashed a two-run homer that landed about 20 feet in front of me on the left-field berm. (A couple with a young child got the ball, on one bounce.)
An earlier home run, a two-run shot by Justin Ruggiano off A's lefty Tommy Milone, gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead in the third inning and will go into the books as another first, the first Cubs home run at Cubs Park. The ball landed in the center-field area of the berm, the part that's roped off as a hitters' background, and I'm not sure if anyone from the Cubs retrieved the ball for posterity.
This is the reason, presumably, that the Cubs got Ruggiano -- he crushes lefthanded pitching. Earlier in the game he smacked a double that bounced onto the berm, almost to the same spot as the home run. Lifetime, Ruggiano is a .256/.328/.506 hitter with 17 home runs in 316 at-bats against lefties. That'll work, I'd think.
Kyle Hendricks started this game for the Cubs and didn't do himself any favors in his attempt to make this year's rotation (yes, I know it's a longshot). He struggled with his command and wound up issuing three walks over his two innings, prompting a mound visit from Chris Bosio and a guy wearing No. 90 with no name on his back to get up in the pen. Fortunately, Hendricks got out of the first-inning jam with just one run allowed, and the second inning was better, with two ground-ball outs.
Carlos Pimentel, a 24-year-old righty the Cubs signed as a minor-league free agent this past winter, threw two good innings, though he also walked a pair. Jonathan Sanchez, trying to hang on as a reliever, showed the same old issue he's been dealing with for years -- no command. Though he only issued one walk, the A's hit him pretty hard, scoring two runs off him in his two innings of work.
One more thing I want to mention about the game-winning rally: after Josh Vitters led off and was picked off, Matt Szczur reached when he was hit by a pitch. Szczur stole second and scored on Almora's hit. I like watching Szczur play and he also made a nice running catch in the eighth inning. I think he should at least be in the conversation for the 25th spot on the Opening Day roster.
Brian Schlitter, who has an outside shot at making this year's bullpen, had a mediocre inning in which he gave up two hits and made a bad throwing error, but got out of it and posted a save with a strikeout and two groundouts, including a comebacker that looked like it went off his foot before he picked it up and threw to first to end the game.
For the A's, our old pal Sam Fuld walked, doubled and scored, and made a fine diving catch on a sinking line drive hit by Ryan Sweeney... just like some of the games he had for the Cubs. He's got a good shot at making the Oakland 25-man roster, just the type of player Billy Beane likes.
Finally, more Olt. Here's what he told Carrie Muskat after the game:
#Cubs Olt says goal in spring is to get comfortable, and feels good now. Shoulder is better and hopes to play 3B sometime soon— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 4, 2014
I would very much like to see him play third base this spring; he's already shown that he can hit, with the home run today, and the Cubs really ought to give him a long look with the aim that he can win the Opening Day third-base job.
Attendance watch: The Cubs drew 10,049 on a pleasant, mostly-sunny weekday afternoon, which is far, far above what most other teams in the Cactus League are drawing this early in the month. Here are the other attendance figures from Tuesday: Indians/White Sox: 2,121 at Goodyear. Diamondbacks/Padres: 3,412 at Peoria. Reds/Royals: 3,084 at Surprise. Brewers/Athletics: 2,209 at Phoenix. Mariners/Dodgers: 5,027 at Glendale. Rangers/Angels: 4,131 at Tempe. Giants/Rockies: 6,062 at Talking Stick.
I would attribute most of the huge attendance at Cubs Park to positive buzz about the park, the curiosity factor of the first year at any new park and the horrendous weather in Chicago and the Midwest, which has gotten a number of people I've met this year in Mesa out of the cold earlier than usual this spring. The Cubs' spring total for three dates is now 39,215, an average of 13,072. One of those in attendance today was Brett Taylor, proprietor of Bleacher Nation and friend to BCB. Brett and I had a nice talk for a couple of innings -- that is, after he wandered around the left-field berm for a while trying to find me.
The Cubs will host the Rockies at Cubs Park Wednesday afternoon. Jeff Samardzija is scheduled to start and be followed by Chris Rusin. Tyler Chatwood will go for the Rox, and once again, the Cubs will be facing a split-squad team.