Sunday was another day reminiscent of so many I experienced at Wrigley Field back in the 1970s: warm, sunny, with the wind blowing out strongly (this time, 17 miles per hour toward right field).
With those conditions and the way the Cubs had hit Adam Wainwright in his three previous starts this year against them, the last thing I expected was a 1-0 game. But that's exactly what we got, with the only run being a wind-blown homer into the center-field basket by Matt Holliday in the first inning. The Cardinals won 1-0, thus winning the series and dropping the Cubs' homestand record to 2-4. It's the 40th 1-0 game in the major leagues so far this year, but just the second for the Cubs (the other one: the 1-0, 10-inning loss to the Pirates on Opening Day in Pittsburgh).
The Cubs certainly had their chances against Wainwright. Welington Castillo led off the third with a double -- stranded. Anthony Rizzo attempting (foolishly, I thought) to stretch a single into a double in the fourth -- thrown out. A one-out walk to Chris Coghlan in the fifth, with Coghlan eventually on third with two out -- stranded. Two on, one out in the sixth -- inning-ending double play.
Give Kyle Hendricks a lot of credit. The wind-blown homer by Holliday wasn't really his fault. On most days that's a routine fly ball to center field -- on the warning track, maybe, but still an out. After the homer Hendricks gave up only four more hits and all told in 6⅓ innings got 11 outs on ground balls, and the Cardinals also ran themselves out of a hit on the basepaths when Matt Carpenter tried to stretch a one-out, third-inning single into a double. Arismendy Alcantara threw him out. The play was reviewed, but it didn't even appear close on first glance, and the reviewers agreed.
Hendricks doesn't have great velocity and likely never will. But when he's throwing well, as he did today, and locating, he will get the opposition to beat the ball into the ground and keep scoring low. Though the team lost and he was tagged with his first big-league defeat, this is the kind of pitching that is going to win many games for the Cubs as this season, and the future for the team, continues. Even if Christian Villanueva never plays a big-league game for the Cubs, getting Hendricks in exchange for Ryan Dempster is, in my view, a big win for Theo & Co. Credit where credit is due.
The bullpen kept the game close after Hendricks was lifted with one out and a runner on first so that Wesley Wright could face A.J. Pierzynski. I wonder if there had been two out and no one on, whether Rick Renteria would have given Hendricks a test by allowing him to face A.J. and finish the seventh inning. I'd have hoped so; his pitch count wasn't too high (94) and it would have been a good test. Hendricks had given up a double to Pierzynski in the second inning, but got him on a called strike three in the fourth.
A.J. was lustily booed every time he came to bat. Each time, he didn't stand in the batter's box right away, instead swinging his bat lazily up and down while he seemed to revel in the hate, sort of like the proverbial pig in... well, you know. I don't think I've ever seen a professional athlete who appeared to enjoy being booed as much as A.J. does, except maybe the WWE wrestlers, and that's all staged, anyway. Say, maybe that could be A.J.'s next career if he doesn't make it in broadcasting. He'd be a perfect WWE villain, wouldn't you think?
The Cubs were just as impotent against the Cardinals bullpen as they were against Wainwright. Kevin Siegrist had a 1-2-3 eighth, and Anthony Rizzo, though he had two hits, appeared frustrated. The wind blowing out to right would have seemed a perfect place for Rizzo's uppercut swing to loft one onto Sheffield against Siegrist, but he grounded to first.
In the ninth, Trevor Rosenthal dispatched the Cubs' first two hitters easily before Chris Coghlan singled. Castillo came to bat with a chance for heroics, but he struck out on three pitches, at 98, 97 and 98 miles per hour from Rosenthal. At least the game was quicker than the last four -- nearly an hour faster in some cases, at two hours, 41 minutes.
A few words about Sunday's throwback uniforms: I never cared for these when they were the Cubs' official road uniform in the late 1970s, but now, nearly 40 years later, they seemed pretty cool as a throwback. It seems to me (see the photo above) that the numbers on the front were a bit too large (have a look at this photo for the actual size from the era) but otherwise the uniforms were faithful to 1978. I was glad to see everyone on the team wearing high socks or stirrups to complete the look.
Since the Cubs were wearing light blue and the Cardinals' 1978 road uniforms were the same color, they wore uniforms more reminiscent of their 1971 through 1975 road uniforms, so at least they were in the right era.
The announced crowd of 35,256, about 6,000 short of a sellout, was pretty subdued except when A.J. came to bat. It seemed as if a lot of Cardinals fans had headed home after Saturday's game. There was plenty of room in the bleachers and no incidents.
Monday night, the Cubs begin their first series of the year against the Colorado Rockies, who have allowed more runs than any team in the major leagues. Perhaps the Cubs offense can score some runs against them, even without a wind blowing towards Sheffield. Tsuyoshi Wada, scheduled for his third big-league start, will face Colorado's Yohan Flande, who will be making his fifth major-league start.