MESA, Arizona -- Winning is always nicer than losing, even in spring training when wins don't mean much.
Thus it was a positive thing when Cubs substitutes pushed across a run in the eighth inning Wednesday and the Cubs hung on for a 4-3 win, their first under Joe Maddon as manager and their first of 2015.
Before that, Jon Lester had thrown three more solid innings, allowing a pair of ground-ball singles and inducing a double-play ball after one of them. Lester has been excellent in both his outings this spring and got a warm ovation from everyone on the left-field berm as he exited the field through the bullpen after his performance.
The Cubs had taken a 2-0 lead on a two-run single by Mike Baxter, who started today at DH. Baxter is likely headed to Iowa to be a first baseman/outfielder, a role he's perfectly suited for. He'll be there in case anyone gets hurt during the season. The Cubs extended the lead to 3-0 on a sacrifice fly by Chris Coghlan after three straight singles off 18-year-old phenom Julio Urias by Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Miguel Montero loaded the bases.
Unfortunately, after that Brian Schlitter got lit up in the top of the fourth, allowing three singles which filled the bags for L.A. Justin Turner hit a ball that nearly went out of the park for a grand slam. Fortunately for the Cubs, it bounced over the fence for a two-run ground-rule double and Scott Van Slyke had to hold at third. He scored on an infield out to tie the game, and after that it appeared we might be headed for another tie as we had at Sloan Park last week.
But Cubs relievers after Schlitter did a very good job, combining for five innings and giving up just one hit and three walks, with five strikeouts. New acquisition Phil Coke, making his Cubs debut, walked one but otherwise was untouched in a scoreless frame.
That left it to guys who likely aren't headed north with the team to break the tie in the eighth off Chris Anderson. Christian Villanueva led off with a walk and took third on a Chris Valaika single. He scored on a sacrifice fly to center by Adron Chambers. Those guys are likely also headed to Iowa this year. Zac Rosscup put the Dodgers down 1-2-3 in the ninth -- including Turner, who was 2-for-3 prior to that at-bat. Turner hit the ball on the nose, but it was a line drive right at Albert Almora in center field.
Besides the win, I have a "best of all" for you -- no Cubs errors, and it appeared that Castro, in particular, was focusing on making good plays. Mike Olt made yet another impossible throw from third base that wasn't close to getting Howie Kendrick in the inning where the Dodgers scored all their runs, but just the fact that he even got the ball to Rizzo was impressive. Olt also singled twice and I don't see any reason why he won't be the Opening Night third baseman.
For the first time this spring, the day was a bit overcast, though there was enough sun through the clouds to make the 81-degree afternoon quite pleasant. The Cubs sold out the game again -- 15,208 was the total -- and the season attendance is now 71,686 for five dates, or 14,337 per date. At that pace they'll break last year's record, and my understanding is that only three remaining games are not sold out -- the 26th vs. the Angels, the 30th vs. the Giants, and April 1 vs. the Brewers, and at least the first two of those have a good chance of becoming sellouts.
Thursday, the Cubs head to Tempe to face the Angels, with Jason Hammel starting against Sean Newcomb. There will also be a bit of a sideshow during the game as actor/comedian Will Ferrell will be playing for both the Cubs and Angels at some point during the game. He'll be playing 10 different positions (including DH) for 10 different teams in five Cactus League games Thursday. It's part of an HBO "Funny or Die" special and here's how it's going to work:
Ferrell’s goal is to honor "Campy" Campaneris while also helping organizations dedicated to fighting cancer, including Cancer for College. Formed in 1993, Cancer for College is a charity that helps individuals adversely affected by cancer to realize their dream of a college education. Ferrell will be playing in the following games as part of the special (all times Central): 2:05 p.m. Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics (HoHoKam Stadium) 3:10 p.m. Chicago Cubs at Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (Tempe Diablo Stadium) 4:10 p.m. Cincinnati Reds at Arizona Diamondbacks (Salt River Fields at Talking Stick) 6:05 p.m. San Francisco Giants at Chicago White Sox (Camelback Ranch) 8:15 p.m. Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego Padres (Peoria Stadium) An important part of the fundraising efforts will be game-used memorabilia from Ferrell’s journey across the five ballparks, to be auctioned at MLB.com with proceeds being donated to Cancer for College, as well as Stand Up To Cancer, a groundbreaking initiative created to accelerate innovative cancer research. MLB is the founding donor to Stand Up To Cancer. On Sept. 8, 1965, Bert "Campy" Campaneris, in only his second major league season, went 0-for-3 playing all nine positions for the Kansas City Athletics in a game against the California Angels. Campaneris is expected to be there with Ferrell as he begins his journey tomorrow.
Should be fun, and it's all for a good cause. The Cubs/Angels game will be televised tomorrow and be available in the Chicago area on MLB Network.