Let's get this part out of the way first -- there were no bathroom lines at Wrigley Field Wednesday afternoon, not after adding all of these:
.. and beyond that, there were probably only a little more than half as many people in the ballpark on a chilly spring afternoon. I estimated 19,000; 26,814 was the announced total of tickets sold, and those in attendance saw the Cubs shut out the Cardinals 2-0 for their first win of 2015. FWIW, the Cubs' first shutout of 2014 was April 27 against the Brewers in last season's 24th game.
Jake Arrieta had a shaky first inning, issuing two walks, but got out of it with a couple of force plays and a nice called third strike on Jhonny Peralta. After that he settled down and allowed just three singles and another walk and struck out seven overall. He appeared in much better command of all of his pitches after the first inning and his 104-pitch outing didn't seem to tire him too much.
Meanwhile, Lance Lynn was mowing down Cubs. He retired the first 10 he faced until Jorge Soler launched a ball over Jon Jay's head in center field and slid in headfirst at third with a triple. The headfirst slides are exciting... but I worry about injury on those. He didn't really need to slide headfirst.
Anthony Rizzo followed the triple with a walk, but the runners were stranded.
The game went scoreless into the bottom of the seventh when Rizzo was hit by a pitch leading off the inning. Inexplicably, Lynn then threw over to first. Rizzo's not the kind of runner who needs to be held close, and when Lynn's throw got away, Rizzo took second and scored on Starlin Castro's single. The Cardinals failed to cut off the throw in and Castro took second base, which would become important when Chris Coghlan laid down a perfect sacrifice. With Castro on third and one out, Miguel Montero hit a fly ball that might have hit the Ernie Banks tarps in right field on a day without the wind blowing in. As it was, Montero's sac fly scored an all-important insurance run.
Castro lost his focus again, and you could see it coming, on a Jason Heyward grounder with one out in the eighth. Joe Maddon had brought in Phil Coke to face Heyward and Matt Carpenter and Coke did his job, striking out Carpenter and getting Heyward to hit a ground ball. If Maddon continues to use Coke this way -- as a lefty specialist -- he could be very, very effective.
Fortunately, Neil Ramirez came in and got Matt Holliday to fly to right and then Maddon changed pitchers again, bringing in Pedro Strop to face Matt Adams. This must have been for matchup reasons. Maddon's Rays had the seventh-most relief appearances in the major leagues last year (the Cubs were fourth), so I'd get used to this kind of maneuvering.
Adams hit a sharp line drive and Castro made up for his error with a nice snag of it to end the inning.
One of my favorite things about watching Hector Rondon save games last year was not only that he did it often (29 times), but did it efficiently and quickly on many of those occasions. He did it again Wednesday, dispatching the Cardinals 1-2-3 in the ninth on just six pitches (five strikes). The efficient pitching made the game time two hours, 23 minutes. Only four Cubs games all of last year were that quick. I think you all know how much I like fast-paced games, and this one was a pleasure from that standpoint as well as the play of the team.
I was watching the inning countdown clock during this game and did notice how much it seemed to pick up play. At times, batters were in the box early enough that umpires signaled the start of play even before the two minutes, 25 seconds had elapsed. If this clock helps pick up the pace -- and early evidence is that it's doing just that -- there might not have to be any other changes made to the game (beyond also keeping batters in the box) to improve the pace of play.
Here's a curiosity about this game: It is just the 12th time in Wrigley Field history that the Cubs have won a game while having two hits or less. Here are the other 11:
|6||1939-06-18 (1)||CHC||BRO||W 1-0||27||27||1||2||0||0||1||1|
|7||1937-09-06 (2)||CHC||CIN||W 2-1||31||26||2||1||1||0||0||1|
Eventually, the bats will get untracked. Until then, more of this kind of pitching, please.
Friday is the Cubs' next game, against the Rockies in Denver. It will be Colorado's home opener and start at 3:10 p.m. CT. Travis Wood is expected to get the start against the Rockies' Tyler Matzek.
In the meantime we'll have plenty here tomorrow. The Iowa Cubs season begins Thursday night in Memphis and Josh will have his I-Cubs preview at 10 a.m. CT.