After the 16 inning marathon the night before, both the Cubs and Pirates basically got a short nap in before having to show up at the ballpark for the series finale Thursday morning. No excuses though as both teams would be playing under the same circumstances. The the home opener coming up for the weekend, the Cubs were certainly looking to avoid the sweep on getaway day.
Anthony Rizzo‘s clutch two out RBI single to drive in Emilio Bonifacio came against left-handed Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez. Even more interesting was the fact that the Cubs first baseman drove the pitch to the left side of the infield, where the home team had left a nice interstate highway sized gap thanks to the pull shift deployed by manager Clint Hurdle. So much for that plan.
The first out recorded by the Cubs defense in the bottom of the first came on a fly to left fielder Junior Lake. In between half innings the Comcast broadcast crew noticed that the sophomore Lake was wearing the primary road jersey. The rest of the team was sporting the new alternate road grey jersey introduced for the 2014 season. It was not until the put out recorded by Lake that the wardrobe mishap was noticed by the Cub outfielder. The Comcast television camera switched back to Lake as he found himself doing a double take down at his jersey. It appears a teammate in the bullpen alerted Lake to the situation. Number 21 would eventually come back out the next inning with the proper “CUBS” alternate gray jersey on. When asked about the goof afterwards, Lake explained that there were two gray jerseys sitting in his locker. He had simply grabbed one assuming the correct gray jerseys had been set out for him. A nice fun moment early in the season.
Mike Olt‘s power stroke has been well documented during his time as a prospect and then his eventual acquisition by the Cubs. With all that he has been through with the eye issue, the hype became reality today when the right-handed Olt drove a low pitch the opposite way and just over the tall wall in right field. The homer was the first of his Major League career and put the Cubs up 2-0 at the time.
The ball of energy that has been Bonifacio continues to impress at the plate. However he has provided excellent effort and focus in all areas of his game. We have also seen solid defensive work while spending time in center field, at second base, and even some time at short stop already. But it his engaged approach to the game that should also be noted. The speedster scored the third run for the Cubs on a double play ground out by Justin Ruggiano. The Cubs right fielder had bounced the ball back to pitcher Rodriguez, but Bonifacio took a fake break towards home to try to coax a throw from the Pirate lefty. Rodriguez wisely chose to complete the double play, but the slight hesitation made the play at first a little closer than it should have been. Bonifacio reacted after crossing the plate, hinting that he had hoped the distraction was enough to allow Ruggiano to reach.
Just moments after that, Darwin Barney was seen in the dugout hugging teammate Bonifacio. Despite the new Cub’s hot start to the 2014 campaign, it was nice to see that the incumbent Cubs second baseman had no ill attitude towards the success of Bonifacio. This is not to question Barney’s attitude to begin with, but good to notice considering that Bonifacio currently is an honest threat to Barney’s regular playing time at second.
It was obviously good to see the Cubs finally scoring some runs early. But it was even more so considering that Pirates starter Rodriguez’s command of his breaking pitch improved as the game went along. In fact the lefty finally retired the thorn in the side known as Bonifacio and it drew quite a cheer from the sparse home crowd on an overcast afternoon.
After the 16 inning game saw the Cubs use each and every one of their relievers plus Carlos Villanueva last night, manager Rick Renteria needed his starter to go deep into today’s game. Jason Hammel delivered, going six plus innings thanks to an efficient pitch count that just started to balloon in the seventh inning. The Cubs right was still hitting up to 93 mph on his fastball late in the game before making way for James Russell in the bottom of the seventh.
To round on the notes that you will not see in your box score, reliever Pedro Strop and John Baker collided between the mound and home plate as both Cubs pursued a pop bunt for the first out of the bottom of the ninth. With a runner already on first this could have had opened the door for another walk off rally for the home team, but Strop held onto the ball despite decking his catcher. The collision actually looked worse than it was, as Baker was flat on his back before quickly getting up and flashing a thumbs up sign.
Despite a late innings rally that brought the Bucs to within 3-2, the Cubs were able to hang on for the first win in 2014 and improve to 1-2, avoiding a sweep at the hands of their division rivals.