PITTSBURGH – Rick Renteria already instituted a coat-and-tie dress code for the team charter, expecting his players to look like big-leaguers. The Cubs manager also didn’t want to see any zombies after two deflating extra-inning walk-off losses.
As heavy rains fell onto PNC Park, Renteria could finally exhale on Thursday afternoon after his first win in his new job, a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. The mood would be much different flying back to Chicago for Friday’s home opener against Ryne Sandberg’s Philadelphia Phillies, the kickoff to Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary.
“It’s huge, but we played three great games,” said Jason Hammel, who left with a 3-0 lead in the seventh inning and got the victory in his Cubs debut. “There’s no reason to hang our heads with two losses. We played great. It looks like we’re going to be one-run warriors. (But) you got to win those games if you want to get deep.”
There was a here-we-go-again feeling in the ninth inning when closer for the day Pedro Strop and backup catcher John Baker collided on a pop-up in the ninth inning. Strop held onto the ball as the helmet popped off Baker’s head and saved a game in which Junior Lake, Emilio Bonifacio and Mike Olt all became trending topics on Twitter.
Lake wore the wrong road gray jersey – the one with “CHICAGO” in block letters across the chest instead of “CUBS” – and that drew all sorts of snarky comments. But it was understandable given the lack of sleep since Game 2 ended in the 16th inning, just after 1:00 a.m. on Thursday, and Game 3 began with first pitch at 12:37 p.m.
[MORE: Junior Lake puts on wrong jersey, realizes his mistake]
“We didn’t get the result we wanted, but these guys were on the top step (of the dugout),” Renteria said. “They were in here (in the clubhouse) going off. They were in every inning we went through. They were pulling for each other. So we’re moving in the right direction with our mentality and our attitude.”
Bonifacio is riding a ridiculous hot streak, going 11-for-16 and forcing his way into the lineup, even if he plays all over the place. Not bad for a guy who got released by the Kansas City Royals and signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs on Feb. 15.
Olt crushed a Wandy Rodriguez pitch into the right-field seats for his first career home run in the big leagues, showing why Cubs executives think the 25-year-old third baseman could be a big part of their future. (Olt also got pulled for Luis Valbuena late in the game.)
“Last night was obviously frustrating,” Olt said. “I was able to get a little bit of sleep. It definitely is tough coming in after a game and the adrenaline’s still going. I only had one at-bat (Wednesday night) and I still had adrenaline going. It will definitely be a nice plane ride home.”
Renteria seemed particularly wired on Thursday morning, raising his voice and projecting his power-of-positive-thinking message.
“It’s deflating if you want it to be,” Renteria said. “I’m not going to come in here and have these guys lay down and be sad. I’m going to play my music. I’m going to come in here every single day ready to go.”
What music are you listening to these days?
“Everything,” Renteria said. “Rock. Pop. Salsa. Jazz. Whatever it takes.”
There will be a lot of noise for the marketing department’s “Party of the Century,” even if it’s hard to get too worked up about Sandberg’s homecoming now. Catcher Welington Castillo played for the Phillies manager at Class-A Peoria, Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, but this organization is completely different from the one Sandberg left after the 2010 season, losing out to Mike Quade in a bid to replace Lou Piniella.
“What can I say? Hall of Fame,” Castillo said. “He helped me a lot. I wish him the best. But we got to play hard against him, no matter what. We play for the Cubs. We got to go hard and win the game.”