All the anticipation of being back in Wrigley Field for the first time in 18 months was wrecked by the Cubs pitching staff Thursday afternoon.
The staff issued 11 walks and the Pirates really didn’t take too much advantage of many of them. Pittsburgh went just 3-for-20 with RISP and left 15 runners on base and so you’d have thought the Cubs would have made easy work of them, but the home team barely showed up offensively and so a 5-3 loss on Opening Day 2021 didn’t feel as close as that score.
The Pirates took it right to Kyle Hendricks in the first inning. In what would prove to be the theme of the afternoon, Hendricks walked the first batter he faced and Ke’Bryan Hayes, who hit the Cubs hard last September, homered.
So the Bucs had a 2-0 lead heading to the home first, but the Cubs got one of them back. Ian Happ led off with a walk and after Willson Contreras forced him at second, Anthony Rizzo doubled Willson to third, and Joc Pederson drove him in with a sac fly [VIDEO].
The Pirates made it 3-1 in the second; another walk by Hendricks was the culprit, as Gregory Polanco led off the inning with a base on balls and eventually scored.
Hendricks managed to get out of the third despite yet another walk issued, ending the inning with a pair of strikeouts. He just looked off; even his normally-compact motion looked out of place.
The Cubs came to within 3-2 in the third. Willson Contreras reached on an error, stole second and went to third on a bad throw, and then Rizzo drove in Willson for the second time [VIDEO].
This would be a good time to tell you that I give a big thumbs-up to Marquee Sports Network’s new scorebox. Here’s a screenshot so you can focus on that:
That’s outstanding work by the folks at Marquee. Big, readable numbers, logos make the teams clear and the contrast between the white and blue make everything on the scorebox easy to read.
I was critical of Marquee’s scorebox last year, but they have outdone themselves here. Well done!
Not so well done was the rest of this game. Have you ever heard the phrase “like being nibbled to death by ducks?” That’s how it felt every time a Cubs pitcher issued another walk. There were 11 in all. This was the 22nd time in the expansion era — the last 60 seasons, since 1962 — that a Cubs staff had walked at least 11 in a nine-inning game. You will not be surprised to learn that the team record in those games is 0-22, some by monstrously bad scores like 16-2. The last such game was two years ago, March 30, 2019 against the Rangers and if you really want to see all 21 other games, here’s the list.
Beyond the walks, the offense disappeared. After Contreras reached on that error in the second inning, the next 15 Cubs went down in order, 10 of them by strikeout. This is not going to be a way that the Cubs will win many games this year. Finally, Eric Sogard doubled leading off the eighth to break that streak. He took third on an infield out and scored on this sac fly by Contreras [VIDEO].
That was it for the Cubs offense. Two doubles, four walks and one batter reaching on an error. Yes, it was cold, but... the Pirates didn’t seem to have any trouble getting runners on base. Cubs pitchers threw a horrific 214 pitches (only 122 for strikes) and the only pitcher who managed a 1-2-3 inning against a not-very-good Pirates team was Alec Mills in the ninth.
About the cold: Yes, it was cold, especially when my seat down the left-field line went into the shade around 2:15. Before that, though, the sun made it mostly comfortable and I’m sure the players were all right on the field. Both teams have to play in these conditions, so that’s no excuse for the Cubs’ poor play. I understand why they wanted to play this game — many people had made specific plans to take a Thursday afternoon off and management didn’t want to make them try to get Friday off, too. It worked out all right, except for the score, and the weather for the rest of the homestand is going to be much more pleasant.
I will have a full report on how Wrigley Field is set up for around 10,000 fans (officially 10,343 for this one) tomorrow morning, including photos, but I did want to say that gameday staff was efficient and friendly and those among the staff who I know well from previous years seemed genuinely happy to see us in the ballpark again. As it was in Mesa for Spring Training, I felt safe among the 25 percent capacity at Wrigley.
I just wish it had been a better game.
The Cubs will try to make things better Saturday in the second game of this three-game set. Jake Arrieta — who got a loud ovation when introduced Thursday — will start for the Cubs in his “re-debut” at Wrigley and Tyler Anderson gets the call for the Pirates. Game time Saturday will be 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.