One of One Hundred and Sixty-Two

Game One – Cubs 3 Brewers 4 – 10 innings
WP – Eric Gagne (1-0, BS 1) LP – Bobby Howry (0-1) Save – David Riske (1)

Despite the cold and the rain, it was Opening Day at Wrigley Field and the it had everything…. except for a Cubs win. The game started 40 minutes late and not even the weather dampened the spirits in and around the ballpark. The Ernie Banks Statue was unveiled a few hours before the first pitch, and it is a beautiful tribute to Mr. Cub.

Once the game began, it was a good ole fashion pitchers duel. Two of the game’s best starting pitchers held both offensives to a combined 2 hits in the first 5 innings. Carlos Zambrano started out his season on a positive note before leaving with a cramp in his forearm with 2 outs in the 7th. Kerry Wood gave up the first runs of the game in the 9th. Wood hit Rickie Weeks to start the inning before allowing a 2-out, 2-run double by Corey Hart. Bobby Howry took the loss after giving up a leadoff double to Craig Counsel and a sacrifice fly to Tony Gwynn, Jr.

Those in attendance witnessed arguably one of the greatest debuts in team history by the Cubs first Japanese ballplayer. Kosuke Fukudome was Lou Piniella’s offense. He reached base all 4 times to the plate and hit a game tying 3-run homer in the 9th off of Brewers’ closer Eric Gagne.

While one game does not make a season, these two teams will have match-ups like the one on Opening Day throughout the year. Lou Piniella preached the importance of a quick start to the season all spring, but the Cubs offense sputtered out of the gate against Ben Sheets. The Brewers ace pounded the outside corner and had a great game plan against the entire Cubs team, with the exception of Kosuke Fukudome.

For those that doubted the mindset of Carlos Zambrano, he pitched like a man on a mission. Zambrano worked fast, showed very good command and most importantly….he threw strikes. Big Z walked only 1 batter in 6 2/3 innings while striking out 5 and of the 3 knocks he allowed, only the double by Bill Hall was a clean hit.

Zambrano paid the price for picking off Bill Hall at 2nd base with Corey Hart at the plate. Big Z’s forearm cramped up and he had to give way to Carlos Marmol with a 2-2 count. Marmol threw one pitch….Senor Nasty, and struck out Hart to end the inning.

Marmol returned to the mound in the 8th and struck out 2 of the 3 batters he faced. Kerry Wood came in to the game in the 9th (and for those interested, they played TNT by AC/DC over the PA system) and hit Rickie Weeks on his first pitch. Tony Gwynn, Jr. sacrificed Weeks to 2nd and Lou Piniella decided to intentionally walk Prince Fielder. Ryan Braun stepped in and blooped a single over Ryan Theriot’s head at short….Weeks scored.

Kerry Wood then struck out Bill Hall but Corey Hart doubled down the right field line and both Fielder and Braun scored on the play….intentional walks should not be issued. J.J. Hardy grounded out to short to end the inning.

After Kosuke Fukudome’s dramatic 3-run blast in the 9th, Bobby Howry took the mound and promptly allowed Craig Counsel to hit a leadoff double to left center. Jason Kendall sacrificed him to 3rd and Howry hit Weeks to put runners on 1st and 3rd with 1 out. Tony Gwynn, Jr. came through for the Brewers again….a sacrifice fly to center took the air out of Wrigley and cost Lou Piniella’s crew the first game of the 2008 season.

David Riske retired the Cubs in order in the 10th and the Brewers’ fans celebrated at Wrigley.

There were a couple of other bright spots on a cloudy day, besides Kosuke Fukudome. Felix Pie’s defense was excellent and Carlos Zambrano had one of his best career outings against the Brewers.

The right field bleachers welcomed Kosuke Fukudome with a loud ovation when he took the field for the first time. And he responded with a tip of the cap….a classy move. When he took the field in the 10th, the applause from right field was amazing as everyone in the crowd let him know, in unison, they were not worthy.

As far as the changes to Wrigley….

The new drainage system passed its first test. The grounds crew did a great job and the field itself looked great. There are actually holes in the field where the water is pushed in shallow left just behind the shortstop area. “CBOE” letters were placed on the brick, and on the seats, to indicate where the new section is located down the 3rd base line. The increased warning track, they added 4 feet and it will really help the outfielders and it was very noticeable down the left and right field foul lines.

Lou Piniella’s crew did play particularly well on Monday, but it is just one game of a long season. The same type of performance will be a lot more concerning at the end of the first week.

The Cubs have a scheduled off day on Tuesday. Ted Lilly will face Jeff Suppan on Wednesday when play resumes.