Game One – Cubs 1 Reds 5
WP – Aaron Harang (1-0) LP – Carlos Zambrano (0-1)
But according to a Reds fan exiting Great American Ball Park, it made today. Lou Piniella was not able to win his Cub debut in large part to Carlos Zambrano’s inability to throw strikes and a huge day from Adam Dunn that included his 200th big league homer. Zambrano could not throw strikes and to go along with the 5 walks on the day, he threw a wild pitch and hit a batter. Monday was a stark difference from the 16 runs the Cubs put up against the Diamondbacks in 2005 and the Reds in 2006, while Opening Day has made the Faithful very happy the past two years, the final outcome the past two seasons, well…. For the third straight Opening Day, Carlos Zambrano struggled. He gave up 5 runs on 6 hits and struck out 2 but the 5 walks and hits batsman was the difference in the game. Call it parody or call it mediocrity, but for the most part all of the teams in the league are very evenly matched and a pitcher cannot allow SIX more base runners than his opposition on the mound. The difference in Monday’s game was Aaron Harang threw strikes. At one point toward the end of Zambrano’s outing his pitch count read, 85 pitches thrown, 44 balls, 41 strikes and for the day he threw 92 pitches, 46 for strikes and 46 for balls (MLB.com has a different count….92 pitches thrown, 45 for strikes)….whichever count is correct does not matter, the end result is not acceptable for a pitcher of Zambrano’s caliber.
Ryan Freel has been a thorn in the side, along with the rest of his teammates for years and on Monday he got the proverbial ball rolling. His 4 pitch walk to start the game for the Reds set the tone for the entire game and raised Zambrano’s blood pressure to the point he was ineffective after the Adam Dunn blast. Dunn in the 2-hole is very interesting to say the least and he proved, for at least one day, Jerry Narron is a genius. After the Dunn homer, Zambrano gave up just a bloop single to Ken Griffey Jr. before Scott Hatteberg grounded out to end the inning. Zambrano threw 20 pitches in the first, 11 were for strikes.
Zambrano retired the Reds in order in the 2nd and looked like he might have settled down but in the 3rd that question received a loud answer. Ryan Freel led off the inning with an infield single that Cesar Izturis tried to bare hand and throw him out at 1st. From this writer’s vantage point, the throw should have never been made….Freel was clearly going to beat it out. The throw went past Derrek Lee; Freel took off for 2nd but the ricochet from the tarp allowed Lee to make a perfect strike to Izturis to nail Freel at 2nd. Dunn then took Zambrano very deep for his second round tripper of the day and number 200 for his career. After the Dunn homer, Zambrano was done and unfortunately for the Cubs he would pitch another 2 innings.
After the Dunn homer, Zambrano walked Brandon Phillips, threw a wild pitch with Griffey at the plate and eventually walked Junior. Edwin Encarnacion followed with a grounder to 3rd, Aramis Ramirez stepped on 3rd but did not make a throw to Lee….again from this writer’s vantage, there was time to make the throw and turn the double play. Hatteberg ended the inning with a ground out to 2nd. At the end of three innings….55 pitches thrown, 29 strikes.
In the 4th, Alex Gonzalez recorded a swinging bunt single that Zambrano tried to make a play on and was unsuccessful. Gonzalez was stranded at 2nd after a sacrifice bunt by Harang. In the 5th Zambrano gave up another lead off walk, this time to Adam Dunn. He hit Brandon Phillips and gave up a single to left by Griffey to load the bases. Encarnacion hit a grounder to Ramirez who threw home for the force out. Zambrano walked Hatteberg, with the bases loaded, to plate Phillips for the 4th run on the day for the Reds. Gonzalez followed with a sacrifice fly to Matt Murton to plate the 5th and final run on the day for the Reds. Zambrano finished his day by striking out David Ross to end the inning.
Zambrano pitched behind in the count all afternoon and allowed the Reds to take advantage but if not for the gifts the Reds would not have been as successful against Zambrano. Other than the Dunn blasts, the other four hits were a bloop and a soft liner by Griffey and infield singles by Gonzalez and Freel.
Neal Cotts gave up a couple of hits, one a double by Ryan Freel, but threw the ball well. Michael Wuertz struggled, even though his line does not indicate it. He had trouble finding the strike zone as well and if not for an over anxious David Ross the Reds could have put up more on the day. Will Ohman retired Josh Hamilton, who made his major league debut, thanks to a very fine defensive play in left by Matt Murton.
Aaron Harang was very impressive and kept the Cubs off balance all afternoon. After a walk to Derrek Lee in the 1st inning (Harang went to his mouth on the mound, a ball was awarded to Lee and that resulted in the walk….remember those rule changes?) Lee was erased on an attempted steal. The first Cubs’ hit of the new season did not come until the 3rd, a leadoff single to center by Mark DeRosa. With 2 outs, DeRosa went to 3rd on a single by Alfonso Soriano (his first as a Cub) off the glove of Edwin Encarnacion at 3rd. Murton struck out to end the inning on a very good or bad pitch….depending on which dugout one was observing from. Two of Murton’s three strikeouts were very ugly to say the least.
In the 4th, Ramirez singled to right and Jacque Jones followed with an infield single up the middle that Alex Gonzalez almost made a good play out of. Barrett flied out and with DeRosa at the plate, Harang uncorked a wild pitch to put runners on 2nd and 3rd. DeRosa eventually walked and on the first offering from Harang, Izturis popped up to short to end the inning. With 2 outs in the 5th, Murton reached on an infield single and scored on an error by Ryan Freel in center. Freel is a human highlight reel….just ask him he will tell you. Derrek Lee singled to center, Freel dove to catch the ball, it bounced out of his glove and Murton scored on the throwing error by Freel. Instead of throwing to 2nd to hold the runners at 1st and 3rd, Freel attempted to throw out Murton at 3rd….Freel has been reading to many of his own clippings. With Lee at 3rd, Ramirez grounded out to Encarnacion at 3rd to end the inning.
The Cubs made it easy on Harang the rest of the afternoon. Harang had a very high pitch count for the first game of the season when he took the mound in the 6th, 98. Whether or not Narron’s decision to leave Harang in the game because of his lack of trust in his bullpen is a discussion for another day. Harang retired the Cubs on just 5 pitches in the 6th and 11 pitches in the 7th.
This was just game one of 162 and they will resume play on Wednesday night in Cincinnati with Ted Lilly scheduled to take the mound against Bronson Arroyo. Maybe Lilly can treat the Cubs Faithful to the same results a former AL East pitcher had last season against the Cubs in the second game of the season.