Cubs lose Steele to hamstring injury in opening loss to Rangers

As the Texas Rangers basked in the Opening Day glow of winning last year’s World Series, the Cubs wondered just how close they are to reliving that moment.

What looked encouraging throughout Thursday’s 4-3 loss in 10 innings in Arlington shifted to angst when lefty ace Justin Steele exited in the bottom of the fifth inning after injuring his left hamstring fielding a bunt.

Steele tumbled to the ground along the first-base line while throwing to first, grabbing the back of his leg. Steele walked off the field on his own after experiencing “left hamstring tightness,” according to team officials.

After the game, manager Craig Counsell described the injury as a “hamstring strain” and said Steele would undergo an MRI Friday morning. Counsell said Steele is likely headed to the injured list, but he wouldn’t speculate for how long without further evaluation.

“It’s just a shame,” Counsell said. “He was pitching really really well. Obviously an important member of the team. And it looks like we’re going to miss him for a little bit here.”

The Rangers won the game in the bottom of the 10th when catcher Jonah Heim laced a two-out, bases-loaded hit to deep right-center field. The Cubs stranded the bases loaded in the top of the 10th after Christopher Morel barely missed a grand slam on a shot that went a few feet foul.

Six relievers followed Steele from a bullpen that wore down during the Cubs’ late-season slide last September. After Adbert Alzolay blew a save opportunity in the ninth, Drew Smyly surrendered the winning run.

The Cubs now have to worry about the future availability of their ace, who allowed a run and 3 hits while striking out six in 4⅔ innings.

“When I was leaning over, backhanding the ball, I just kind of felt something grab,” Steele said. “I went down with it and didn’t want to do anything to risk further injury. We’ll get some imaging done (Friday) and find out the severity of it and stuff.”

The Cubs chose to pretty much run it back this season with a group that underwhelmed last year by finishing second in a mediocre National League Central.

Was running it back enough, especially now that Steele may be on the shelf? Unfortunately for the Cubs, they’ll be tested immediately.

The Cubs hit Rangers ace Nathan Eovaldi as hard as anyone did last season when he closed with a 5-0 postseason record. They struck first in the top of the second when Morel rocketed a triple to left field and Dansby Swanson drove him in with a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs' Christopher Morel is congratulated after scoring against the Texas Rangers during the second inning of Thursday’s game. Associated Press

The Cubs took their third lead by breaking a 2-2 tie with a bizarre run in the top of the ninth. With runners on first and second and two outs, Nick Madrigal appeared to foul tip a pitch off Heim’s glove.

While Heim pleaded his case with the home plate umpire for a foul tip call, Michael Busch raced around third and scored on what the official scorer ruled a wild pitch and stolen base. The Rangers tied it in the bottom of the ninth when Travis Jankowski homered off Alzolay.

Eovaldi left with a no-decision after allowing 4 hits and 2 runs in 6 innings.

The Cubs' Michael Busch scores on a wild pitch and steal of home in the top of the ninth inning of Thursday’s game against the Texas Rangers. Associated Press
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