It took a little extra to get there, but the Pittsburgh Pirates sent the home faithful to their vehicles happy on Opening Day Monday, after Neil Walker clubbed a walk-off solo home run into the right field seats off Carlos Villanueva, giving the Pirates a 1-0 win over the Cubs.
Chicago (0-1) failed to deliver in multiple run-scoring opportunities, finishing the afternoon 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position, despite putting the leadoff man aboard five times against Pirates pitching.
Walker led off the bottom of the tenth and took a full count pitch from Villanueva (0-1) deep into the seats, throwing his hands up as soon as it left the bat, leaving the Cubs with a bitter taste in their mouth on a day when Jeff Samardzija was masterful.
The right-hander tossed seven scoreless innings, scattering five hits and allowing just two walks – near mirroring his start on Opening Day last season, when he led the club to a 3-1 win over the Pirates at PNC Park. This time, though, the offense failed to support its ace.
Of the club’s six hits, leadoff man Emilio Bonifacio had four – including a double off reliever Mark Melancon. He also added a stolen base, but was picked off late in the game by Bryan Morris (1-0) and narrowly missed being picked off what would have been a second time earlier in the contest.
Samardzija’s counterpart, Francisco Liriano, was certainly deserving of a win, but will take a no decision after throwing six shutout innings in which he changed speeds and locations masterfully, striking out ten Cubs hitters.
In the top of the fifth inning, first-year skipper Rick Renteria became the first manager to take advantage of the new review system when Samardzija laid down a bunt with men on first and second with no outs. Liriano fielded the ball, throwing to third, before the third baseman, Pedro Alvarez, turned and threw to first to retire the Cubs’ pitcher on a bang-bang play.
After reviewing the call, it was upheld. The Pirates (1-0) later challenged the pick-off of Bonifacio, which had initially been a safe call, and it was overturned.