Friday, April 1, 2011
Posted: 4:39 p.m. Updated: 8:08 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
Distractions always rush in on Opening Day. There was the overflow media crowd, Robert Redford throwing out the first pitch and steady rain on a cold, gray afternoon.
WATCH: High expectations among Cubs fans on Opening Day
Kerry Wood came home again and received the loudest ovation during pregame introductions, wearing a No. 10 hat to honor the late Ron Santo. Manager Mike Quade took the Red Line to work on Friday morning, after so many years of riding buses from one minor-league city to the next.
Finally, baseball was back for the 41,358 fans inside Wrigley Field. Even if it was 41 degrees, summer didnt seem quite as far away.
But once the adrenaline wears off and the initial excitement goes away, this much becomes clear: Anything the Cubs hope to do this season is premised upon pitching, from the front of their rotation to the back of their bullpen.
It didnt happen in a 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Ryan Dempster cruised through 4 23 scoreless innings before giving up two home runs that made the difference. By the end, large sections of Wrigley Field were almost completely empty.
No storybook ending, but I dont believe in those things anyway, Quade said. Youre going to earn what you get and we didnt earn it today. We got beat.
Dempster lost a seven-pitch at-bat against Neil Walker with two outs in the fifth inning. Walker crushed a 3-2 fastball onto Sheffield Avenue for a grand slam that gave the Pirates a 4-2 lead.
But what really burned Dempster was his 114th and final pitch sailing away, the two-out, two-run homer Andrew McCutchen drove into the left-field bleachers. That seventh-inning sequence opened Quade up to second-guessing.
Those add-on runs (usually) end up putting you away for the rest of the game, Dempster said. I still felt good and I felt strong, but I wasnt able to get the job done.
Quade visited the mound in the seventh but liked what he saw from Dempster the inning before. Dempster was still within his pitch-count range and McCutchen was going to be his last hitter anyway. The manager left the ball in the hand of his most reliable pitcher.
Hes earned the right to do that, Quade said.
Pitching depth is the obvious strength of this group, from a rotation fronted by Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza, to a bullpen built around Wood, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol.
Its supposed to mask a lineup that will struggle to score runs, make up for some shaky defense and protect the middle relievers. Opening Day almost flipped the script.
The Cubs pounded out 11 hits, but those were 11 singles and none broke open the game. The middle infield looked strong particularly the range, reactions and decision-making by 21-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro. James Russell, John Grabow and Jeff Samardzija combined for 2 13 innings of scoreless relief.
Sometimes we look at the whole entire season and it seems like a lot (to) carry on our shoulders, Carlos Pena said. But this group (is) wise enough (to know) how important its going to be to take a pitch at a time. As clichd as that may sound, its something that we can handle.
Lets keep pressing for every single pitch. And at the end of the day we know that we have given our best and hopefully that will be many, many wins.
Pena missed the take sign on a 3-0 pitch during one at-bat and popped out during his first game at Wrigley Field. But the new first baseman preferred to take away the positives. And pitching should keep the Cubs optimistic and hoping that tomorrow will be a better day. If nothing else, it should be interesting Zambranos up next.
It wasnt the way we liked, Aramis Ramirez said, but we got 161 to go.
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.