Cubs give Wrigley Field fans something to celebrate during home opener
Tom Ricketts didn't hit a home run Monday. Laura Ricketts didn't bridge the gap into the ninth. And Todd and Pete fielded nothing but compliments.
But the Ricketts family is undefeated as owners of the Cubs. Well, at home, anyway.
"I don't think they got any base hits," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "But it's nice and positive to see ownership supporting the team and rooting for the team."
There was a lot to cheer about in Home Game 1 of Year 1 with a 9-5 win that lasted enough time for the First Family of Wrigley to shake every hand and kiss every baby from the firehouse to the nosebleed seats.
The Cubs, now ensconced in an upgraded clubhouse as part of a $10 million ballpark renovation, benefited from home runs by Xavier Nady, Jeff Baker and Aramis Ramirez that gave them a seven-run cushion after four innings. Marlon Byrd had three of the Cubs' 13 hits, Ryan Dempster battled through trouble to get the win, and the bullpen didn't give up any runs.
"The best thing we can do to show them how much we appreciate everything is go out there, play hard every day and put a winning product out on the field," Dempster said.
Well, every day is a tall order for this team. But this was a nice start. It was a long first week for the Cubs, who went right from spring training to Atlanta and then to Cincinnati. Chicago's position players came in hitting just .202.
"It can happen to anybody," Ramirez said. "We faced some good pitching in Atlanta and then in Cincinnati. Sometimes you have to give credit to the pitcher. We came out here and got started on the right foot."
I guess you have to credit Brewers starter Doug Davis then, because he was slow and terrible, a combination that helped push this game just under the 3-hour mark.
The only hiccup for the Cubs was the state of Derrek Lee's thumb. He left after getting an RBI single in the fourth to have his right thumb X-rayed for precautionary reasons. Lee's thumb had bothered him since spring training, and swelled up after his at-bat, but the X-rays turned out negative, which is a positive.
Piniella said before the game he would pull Soriano for defense when the Cubs were ahead, and the manager did just that, taking him out after the sixth. Soriano admitted again that he's scared of hitting the wall, something he brought up when he first came to Wrigley.
"You don't want anybody getting hurt, obviously," Piniella said. "But at the same time when the ball is around the white line, or close to it, you gotta catch it. Especially when you're not scoring runs, things like that become magnified."
Soriano had two hits but was unavailable for comment on the late-game benching. Soriano's not likely to rock the boat, but you can bet his pride is hurt.
"We're going to be doing that for a while," Piniella said after the game. "With leads, we'll put [Tyler] Colvin out there, probably, for defense."
The two biggest complaints coming into the home opener were the offense and the bullpen. And maybe the relief corps, with three rookies and Jeff Samardzija, needed a little room to operate. The bullpen cost the starters a few wins on the road, going 0-3 with three blown saves and a 7.27 ERA, and 12 walks and 16 hits in 17 1/3 innings.
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"We have a young bullpen," Piniella said before the game. "We've got to give them a breather, scoringwise."
That worked out in the Cubs' favor as well. James Russell came in for Dempster in the seventh with a man on third and one out, and while he allowed the inherited runner to score, he struck out Jim Edmonds and Prince Fielder. Samardzija, who hadn't pitched since his nightmare first game, deflated his ERA from 108.00 to 27.00 with a 1-2-3 inning. And Carlos Marmol pitched the ninth, walking one and hitting another, but he didn't give up a run.
"Marmol made my heart beat a little in the ninth," Piniella said.
Piniella expressed patience for the relief corps, a Groundhog Day story every year. How many teams have 1-2-3 bullpens this early? And you can bet the Cubs will add some more arms down the stretch, when teams are ready to give them up, just like John Grabow last year. Tom Gorzelanny or Carlos Silva will join the 'pen when Ted Lilly gets back.
"You've got to do your job, regardless of what's going on," Samardzija said. "As a young bullpen, we've kind of come together and we understand we're a big part of this team. We need to do our part also."
Byrd enjoyed his first game as a Cub, bantering with fans, and getting his first non-home run hits. The fans love him. For now, anyway. But that can change like the direction of the wind inside Wrigley. If he's still hitting .200 in a week, watch out.
"They're great," Byrd said of the fans. "We've got to keep them in the game. I guess the way to keep them in the game is to keep winning."
Byrd sure is a quick learner. Forget new bathrooms or bison hot dogs. The fans want wins, even in a season when the Cubs aren't the favorites. But it's early.
Chicago is just 3-4 and it's not yet Tax Day. But for a day anyway, there was almost nothing to complain about.
Then again, how were those bison dogs?
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
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