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Cubs 8, Marlins 4: Winning with the long ball

The Cubs smashed three home runs and won Game 1 of the 2018 season.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — If you had any doubts about Ian Happ as the Cubs’ leadoff man — and really, you shouldn’t have if you read Sara Sanchez’ article on this topic earlier today — those doubts should have been dispelled on the very first pitch of the 2018 baseball season:

One pitch, 1-0 Cubs lead. It had been 32 years since a player hit the very first pitch of a season for a home run:

If you’re counting, that’s now six leadoff home runs Happ has hit since spring training began but his first leading off a regular-season game. Nice launch angle on that one, too:

And for comparison:

The Cubs went on to score three runs in the first inning, thanks in part to Marlins starter Jose Urena hitting three batters. That tied a record originally set by a Cub:

Anthony Rizzo also homered in the Cubs’ 8-4 win over the Marlins. It was not as easy as that sounds, though. Jon Lester struggled and had to be taken out in the fourth inning after throwing 71 pitches. He issued three walks and it seemed he was pretty unhappy with plate umpire Larry Vanover’s strike zone. Here’s where I might show you a strike zone plot from @CubsUmp, but that account did not tweet today. I realize that what that feed sends out is not a completely accurate plot, but it at least gives you an idea of particularly egregious missed calls. I hope the account resumes tweets soon.

Here’s Rizzo’s blast:

The Marlins tied the game before a pair of doubles by Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras gave the Cubs a 5-4 lead in the top of the fourth. Steve Cishek bailed Lester out of a jam in the bottom of the inning and threw a scoreless fifth in his Cubs debut.

Jason Heyward had a nice day with a bases-loaded walk and a line-drive double that was well-struck. He also reached base on catcher’s interference. I think it’s important for Heyward to get off to a good start, that could take some pressure off him. He also made a nice sliding catch in right field [VIDEO].

Kyle Schwarber extended the lead to 6-4 with a homer in the seventh, called by JD [VIDEO].

That ball: Crushed!

Tommy La Stella, pinch-hitter extraordinaire, doubled in two runs in the seventh to make it 8-4.

Justin Wilson had a 1-2-3 inning in his season debut, a good sign, and Mike Montgomery wrapped things up in a non-save situation. All told, Cubs relievers allowed just one hit, a hit batter and three walks over 5⅔ innings, an excellent showing.

The Marlins Park crowd of 32,151 (about 4,500 short of a sellout) was overwhelmingly Cubs fans, from reports I received from Miami, and on TV it sure sounded like a Cubs home game. That attendance figure is of interest, based on this Miami Herald article:

... a Marlins spokesman said Thursday that the Marlins will only count actual tickets sold in their attendance calculations.

The Marlins ranked 27th in the Majors last season with a total home attendance of 1.6 million. That averages out to about 20,000 a game, which was rarely the case based on visual evidence.

The Miami Herald reported in January that the actual number of paid tickets was about 820,000.

That figure would have ranked last in the Majors last season, well behind Tampa Bay’s final count of 1.2 million.

It’ll be interesting to see how that all shakes out for them over the course of the season. The crowd for Friday’s second game of the series is likely to be smaller... much smaller.

I received quite a number of texts from a friend who was at the game, who reported that fan service at Marlins Park was extremely poor:

Marlins customer service sucks. Blocked aisles, slow food service. Just all around bad, can’t tap kegs. Took me 24 minutes in line to get a hot dog.

Between innings a beer vendor is in the aisle. Totally locks all movement. I was caught between vendor and railing. A Marlins suit walks by and does nothing. I asked the suit to help clear the aisle — nothing. Food lines are blocking the concourse.

At a 312 Goose Island stand, one person working, 15 minute wait for beer. No game feed on the concourse either, I missed the Rizzo homer. Only one person working Goose Island with this big Chicago crowd?

If this had been my first impression of Marlins Park, it would be my last.

Some of my friend’s complaints were confirmed by this tweet:

Obviously, “Derek Jetner” is a typo. Unless Derek Jeter is trying to go incognito with all these problems.

Maybe this is just an Opening Day shakedown cruise, trying to work out all the issues, but all of that sounds pretty unprofessional for a major league ballpark.

Final thoughts on this one: The Cubs offense was outstanding, with seven extra-base hits. Jon Lester struggled, but the bullpen picked up the slack today. The rotation is obviously expected to be better than this, and I’m sure it will be, but it was good to see the pen shut things down after the game was tied, allowing the Cubs offense to take over again.

Friday night, the baseball season gets into its daily routine with the second game of the regular season. Kyle Hendricks will go for the Cubs and Caleb Smith for the Marlins. Game time is 6:10 p.m. CT, and TV coverage Friday is on WGN.