Nothing but yawns all around yesterday, weren’t there? I could barely keep my eyes open. How about you?
Gee, gosh, Scottie “No Tippin” Pippen got the official notification that he will be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame. Here’s hoping that he treats the HOF staff better than he treats wait-staff. But, no matter what, he is certainly deserving of the honor.
Speaking of boring basketball stuff, Duke played Butler yesterday in a predicted blowout. For Duke, that is. Instead we got treated to one of the most exciting NCAA Championship games I can remember. It hearkened back to what used to make the NCAA great. Solid defense, tight team play and timely offense. The game could have gone either way and the fact that Duke won takes nothing away from Butler.
In truly boring basketball news, De Paul hired Oliver Purnell to be their basketball coach. My guess is that Terry Bevington wasn’t available. There’s no other excuse. I also wonder why someone would leave Clemson for De Paul, but not enough to check into it or care.
Oh, before I forget, Tiger Woods clarified that he only cheated on his wife, not the game of golf. You can all breathe a sigh of relief now.
All righty then, now that we’ve got all of that out of the way, let’s talk a little bit about the boring opening days that both Chicago baseball teams offered up yesterday. Before we do, give yourself a minute to check out Rick Telander’s and Rick Morrissey’s articles on the Cubs and Sox pitching, respectively. They are both worthy reads.
Anyway, yesterday the Cubs opened their season in Atlanta and proceeded to break records. Some of which have lasted over 130 years. However, as CARRIE MUSKAT at MLB.com reports, they may not have been the kind that Lou had in mind.
This spring, the Cubs’ pitching was the least of Lou Piniella’s worries, but on Opening Day, it was embarrassing.
Carlos Zambrano made his sixth straight Opening Day start Monday, a Cubs record. It also was shorter than his first Cactus League outing.
In 1 1/3 innings against Atlanta on Monday, Zambrano served up eight runs on six hits—including two homers—hit a batter, and made a throwing error that led to a run as the Braves beat the Cubs, 16-5. It’s the worst Opening Day loss for the North Siders since 1884, when the Cubs lost, 15-3, to the New York Giants.
“I never envisioned giving up 16 runs on Opening Day—never in my wildest dreams,” Piniella said. “[We gave up] 16 runs after we pitched really well all spring. And not only did we pitch well, but we threw strikes and got ahead of the hitters. Today was the complete opposite.
“You can’t pitch from behind against a good-hitting team,” Piniella said. “And you certainly can’t walk people against a good-hitting team, and that’s exactly what we did.”
This matched Zambrano’s shortest start ever. On Sept. 4, 2006, he also went 1 1/3 innings, but he exited that game because of back problems. Big Z is 1-2 with a 6.99 ERA (22 earned runs over 28 1/3 innings) in his Opening Day starts.
“He’s certainly capable of doing a heck of a lot better,” Piniella said.
“Too many pitches in the middle,” Zambrano said. “They have a good lineup. Against a team like that, you can’t put the ball in the middle. You have to hit the spots and the corner if you want to pitch good against the Braves.”
Marlon Byrd gave his hometown buddies something to cheer about in the first, hitting a three-run homer off Derek Lowe (1-0). He’s the first Cubs player to homer in his debut at-bat for the team since Henry Rodriguez did so March 31, 1998. Aramis Ramirez, who did not hit a home run all spring, added a two-run shot with two outs in the third.
Braves rookie sensation Jason Heyward topped Byrd when he crushed a 2-0 pitch from Zambrano (0-1) for his first Major League home run, a three-run shot, in his first at-bat in the first.
“I knew he was going to be great ‘cuz he’s a Georgia boy,” Byrd said. “Everything they talked about, he’s the real deal.”
It was an eventful first. The Braves sent 10 batters to the plate, beginning with Melky Cabrera, who walked. Zambrano served up three straight singles, including two bloopers, before striking out Troy Glaus. Escobar drove in two with his single, and Heyward, greeted by “Let’s go Heyward” chants from the sellout crowd of 53,081, followed with his blast to make it 6-3.
“The chances of that happening are slim and none,” Atlanta’s Billy Wagner said of Heyward connecting off Zambrano. “Big Z is up there, and he’s filthy. That just doesn’t happen very often.”
Piniella had hoped Zambrano could go three or four innings after the rough first, but the right-hander hit Martin Prado to start the second. Chipper Jones bounced a grounder to second baseman Mike Fontenot, who threw to Zambrano covering at first. But after making the putout, Zambrano threw wildly over Ramirez at third in an attempt to get Prado, who scored on the error. Brian McCann followed with his first homer, off a 2-1 pitch, for an 8-3 Atlanta lead. Again, Zambrano was behind in the count.
“I have the tools to pitch good in April,” Zambrano said. “I just had a bad game. I’ve put it behind me. Today, it happened, I gave up eight runs and like I say, ‘I will concentrate on my next start.’”
As several reporters have noted, it would have been nice if Big Z had concentrated on this one too. Zambrano is now only the 3rd pitcher to give up 8 runs in less than 2 innings on opening day. He is also 1-5 as an opening day starter. Those are not really the kind of records that anyone had in mind. To add insult to injury, Jeff Samardzija’s 108.00 ERA is kind of a staggering number to consider. Especially when all of his possible replacements are even younger and less experienced.
On the plus side, Marlin Byrd is the real deal in center Cubs’ fans. So, that’s one less thing to worry about.
On the Southside, the Sox opened their season against the Cleveland Indians and bored the snot out of everyone. Kind of. Maybe sort of. Okay, not at all. SCOT MERKIN at MLB.com has finally regained his senses after witnessing Mark Beuhrle’s insane toss to Paul Konerko to end Lou Marson’s quest for a single which will probably end up on highlight reels for decades.
Remember the White Sox 2005 season? You know, when the White Sox won 99 games, put on an 11-1 postseason run and claimed their first World Series title in almost nine decades?
Well, that fun and excitement all began on April 4 at U.S. Cellular Field, with a pitching matchup between Mark Buehrle and Cleveland’s Jake Westbrook. That particular pitchers’ duel ended in a 1-0 victory for the South Siders.
Flash forward almost five years to the day, and it was Buehrle and Westbrook on the mound again for their respective teams Monday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field. This victory was a bit more decisive for the White Sox, posting a 6-0 final before a sellout of 38,935 fans.
As is apparent from the score, Ozzie Guillen’s crew won through a shutout and performed all facets of the game with a skill level that would have made the 2005 squad proud. It was truly a near-flawless opening effort.
So, could this Opening Day victory, the South Siders’ second straight to start the season, be a harbinger of special things to come in 2010? It might be a little early to stretch this good feeling to such extreme distances.
“You want to win every game, but if we would have lost today, it’s not the end of the world,” said Buehrle, who broke the franchise record he previously shared with Billy Pierce with his eighth Opening Day start. “Just because we won and played the way we did, it doesn’t automatically mean we are going to finish in first place.”
“In the end of the day, it’s only one win,” said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen with a smile.
For this one win, the White Sox showed off elements of their collective repertoire needed to make this season a success. Buehrle had a hand in the pitching end, giving up just three hits in seven innings, but he also turned in a defensive play in the fifth that might hold up over the next 161 games as the season’s finest. Cleveland catcher Lou Marson hit a hard grounder deflected toward the first-base foul line by Buehrle with his left shin on a kick-save attempt, looking like a Blackhawks goaltender.
Buehrle chased the ball down and flipped it with his glove between his legs on the run, a dead-on throw grabbed by first baseman Paul Konerko with his bare hand. The crowd erupted, although Buehrle had no idea what really took place.
“It just kind of happened,” said a laughing Buehrle, who threw 63 of his 95 pitches for strikes. “I didn’t plan on doing that.”
“I was talking to the second-base umpire Bruce [Dreckman],” said White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham, who had two hits, two runs scored and a great look at Buehrle’s spectacular defense. “And he said, ‘Turn off the cameras now, it’s the best play of the year, first game.’ Unbelievable play.”
Konerko provided all the offense Buehrle needed with a two-out, two-run home run to right in the first inning on the first pitch from Cleveland starter Jake Westbrook and the first official pitch the White Sox captain saw in the 2010 season. Alex Rios added a solo shot in the eighth to complete the scoring.
These blasts marked the third career Opening Day homer for Konerko and second for Rios. Carlos Quentin, who was hit by a pitch twice, started the two-out, first-inning rally off of Westbrook with a double to right, and Konerko followed with a line drive just over the leaping effort of Shin-Soo Choo.
“Basically, it was to just be ready to hit, not to be passive, and look through the middle. It was a good swing,” Konerko said. “I try to see a few pitches, but I want to be aggressive with guys on base. You don’t want to let any good pitches go that are good to hit because that’s your job to drive them in.”
Yes, Paulie, that was a good at bat. You can make that claim when you get the game winning hit in the 1st inning. Overall the Sox scored exactly the way they claimed they would. 3 runs off of aggressive base-running and 3 more off of homers. That is about as balanced as you are going to get. Watching Quentin steal home after a wild pitch felt like the best harbinger of good things to come. While I’m not ready to grab my World Series tickets just yet, I have to admit that I am liking this year’s model more and more the more I see them.