'Absolute insanity' as Cubs win Wrigley opener
Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon made a prediction on what the atmosphere would be at Wrigley Field Monday night.
"Craziness," Maddon said. "Absolute insanity. It's wonderful. Coming back last night, coming back to my place, there's a lot of buzz."
Maddon turned out to be right about the 40,882 fans in attendance for the home opener. It just took a little time.
Addison Russell hit a 3-run home run off Jumbo Diaz in the bottom of the eighth inning to give the Cubs a 5-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. The Cubs rallied from an early 3-0 deficit.
"Once I hit the ball, I kind of knew it was gone," said Russell, who hit his first homer of the regular season after hitting 6 in the spring. "I normally don't hit home runs, but Opening Night, we're down, the occasion called for it."
Even though it's early, there's starting to become a sense of inevitability with these Cubs, who have won six of their first seven games. Sooner or later, it seems, they're going to get you.
That buzz Maddon predicted settled into a low hum and stayed that way most of the night as a Cubs lineup that looked relentless in the warmth of the West Coast went cold against Reds left-hander Brandon Finnegan.
The Cubs did not pick up their first hit of the game until David Ross singled with two outs in the seventh. By that time, the Reds had a 3-0 lead against lefty Jon Lester.
After Ross kept the inning alive, pinch-hitter Matt Szczur walked, chasing Finnegan. Dexter Fowler walked against reliever Caleb Cotham, and Reds manager Bryan Price brought in lefty Tony Cingrani. Jason Heyward lined a single to right, making it a 3-2 game.
"We had good at-bats the whole game," Maddon said. "I'll give their pitcher a lot of credit. He did an outstanding job. We hit some balls hard. Our geometry was bad early on in the game. It was at everybody.
"Again, I like to use the word 'relentless' with our offensive group. Finally David breaks through with a basehit to left field. After that, we gained a little more confidence."
The good feeling in the ballpark was a carry-over from the road trip and the anticipation after last year's 97-win season and a trip to the National League championship series.
"You look what the team did on this past road trip, obviously you could not be happier," Maddon said. "We played really good baseball. There was not a component or a part of the game we did not do well. We pitched well. We caught the ball. We had great at-bats. It's great. It's wonderful. Our fans are so involved. It's definitely a relationship that works both ways. We really love our fans, also."
It was a mixed-bag outing for Lester, who was dominant last week against the Angels. He worked 6 innings of 5-hit, 3-run ball against Cincinnati. The Reds put across a single run in the first, thanks in part to a poor decision in left field by Jorge Soler.
With Zack Cozart on first and one out, Joey Votto singled to left-center. Cozart had third made easily, but Soler threw that way, and Votto went into second base easily. With the double play out of the picture, Brandon Phillips picked up an RBI single to short.
Billy Hamilton, the Reds' No. 9 hitter, homered to the basket in left field to lead off the third. Lester gave up a run in the fourth, giving up an RBI single to Finnegan.
"It was a little bit of a grind," Lester said. "I didn't have a lot to go off of. A lot of 1-0 counts, which is never good. These guys (the Reds) are swinging the bats really well right now. When you're constantly behind, it just makes you work even harder. The biggest thing was I kept us in close enough to come back and win."