Okay, so maybe the Pirates are better than I thought they were.
Things started off well. After a 1-2-3 first by Tyler Chatwood, the Cubs started hitting Pirates starter Ivan Nova. Singles by Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras put runners on first and second, and that brought up Kyle Schwarber:
Bryant scored and Contreras apparently made it safely into third base, but the Pirates challenged and won, with Contreras being ruled out, ending the inning.
That didn’t necessarily seem significant at the time. The Cubs had a 1-0 lead and Chatwood looked good early. But if that play had not been overturned, the Cubs would have had runners on second and third with two out (Schwarber advanced to second on the throw to third), and possibly Addison Russell or Jason Heyward or Javier Baez could have kept the rally going.
The Pirates tied the game in the top of the second, but Javy answered in the bottom of the inning:
Javy’s first of the year, well up into the left-field bleachers on a chilly, but not uncomfortable afternoon, gave the Cubs a brief 2-1 lead.
The Bucs, unfortunately, batted around against Chatwood in the third, scoring three times to make it 4-2. That would still have been manageable, even when Starling Marte homered in the fourth, it was still just 5-2.
But Nova settled down after Javy’s home run. Just three Cubs reached base between the third and sixth: a double by Contreras leading off the fourth, a single by new Cub Efren Navarro, pinch-hitting in the fifth, and Bryant being hit by a pitch one out after Navarro’s hit.
Nevertheless, things were going reasonably well. Chatwood finished the fifth with seven strikeouts and five runs allowed and Mike Montgomery retired the first five hitters he faced.
That’s when things fell apart for MiMo. Two seeing-eye grounders made it through the right side and Francisco Cervelli smashed a ball out of the yard to make it 8-2.
Cervelli missed most of last year with injuries and you can see why the Pirates missed him. He’s already a key part of their good start.
Javy wasn’t done with his power hitting for the day. With one out in the last of the seventh, Baez launched another Nova offering [VIDEO].
That made it 8-3, still seemingly far from a comeback.
But the Pirates lifted Nova and Edgar Santana, a rookie righthander, entered the game. He retired the first two hitters he faced, then singles by Contreras and Schwarber and a walk by Russell loaded the based for Heyward.
That brought in Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez, the lefthander formerly known as Felipe Rivero. Rivero legally changed his last name to Vazquez and the story behind why he did that is pretty interesting.
Heyward, on an 0-2 pitch, bounced a single up the middle [VIDEO], scoring two runs and sending Russell to third. Now at 8-5, with the tying run at the plate, this game seemed possibly winnable. Nice work by Heyward, who has looked pretty good at the plate so far this year.
Now, don’t get me wrong when you read what I’m about to write here. I love watching Javier Baez. He’s a tremendous defensive player and has outstanding baseball instincts. But he was probably the single worst player the Cubs could have had up in that situation. You knew, after Javy had hit two homers on the day, he’d be swinging for Milwaukee in this at-bat. And the Pirates knew it, too, because after a first-pitch fastball, Vazquez threw Javy two changeups and the swings he put on them air-conditioned a Wrigley Field that didn’t need to be any colder.
Shortening up his swing and trying to poke a single through the defense would have worked better; that would have scored two runs and made it a one-run game. But that didn’t seem to be Javy’s mindset in this game, unfortunately.
Ian Happ drew a one-out walk in the ninth, but that was it, and the Cubs started the Wrigley Field season with a loss.
The ballpark looked great, even after the snowfall that postponed the opener to Tuesday. You could still see the seams between the rolls of turf that comprised the new playing surface, but those will grow out soon enough. Some of the new concession stands were open; others will be completed by midseason, and when they are, movement through the concourse in the main part of the ballpark will be much easier.
The new Cubs dugout makes the players much more visible, especially when they are sitting on the front bench. From Joe Maddon:
#Cubs Maddon says he's so close to Butterfield he can give signs by throwing sunflower seeds at him— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) April 10, 2018
Hey, whatever works, right?
The Cubs will play their first home night game of 2018 Wednesday evening. Jon Lester will go for the Cubs and Steven Brault for the Pirates. Game time is 7:05 p.m. CT and TV is via WGN. And the weather might even be a bit warmer.