Big problems? Not for these newly confident Cubs.
After winning their first division title in 14 years, the Cubs got a good start on their next quest: back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1971-72.
“Last year, we were not really sure how good we were,” said Patterson, who tore knee ligaments on July 6 and missed the rest of the season. “Since we did well last year, it builds more confidence. We know everyone is gunning for us.”
The Reds had another disappointing debut in Great American Ball Park, where 42,122 fans watched a lineup missing Ken Griffey Jr. stumble out of the gate once again.
Griffey reluctantly took a few more days to rest a strained calf injured a week ago in Florida. The injury-prone outfielder paced in the dugout with a bat in each hand, but never got to hit.
“We played some spring training games without him and we did all right, but you always want a stud like that in your lineup,” shortstop Barry Larkin said.
Instead, the day belonged to the Cubs, who got little from their top starter and best run producer, but won anyway.
“This is a new year, a new opportunity to go all the way,” said Alou, who doubled home three runs in the third. “We feel we have the team to do it. We just need a little luck. We feel we’re going to win a lot of games.”
This one opened with a tribute to former Reds owner Marge Schott and a ceremonial first pitch by Vice President Dick Cheney, who wore a bright red jacket on a sunny, 45-degree afternoon.
Schott died last month at age 75, ending a tumultuous chapter for baseball’s first pro team. Video clips were shown on the scoreboard, and the public address announcer asked for a moment of silence “to honor Marge Schott on this, her favorite day of the year.”
Cheney got a loud ovation when he stood in the grass in front of the mound, and threw a right-handed strike to crouching Reds catcher Jason LaRue.
Four pitches later, LaRue was standing and watching Patterson’s homer land in the outfield stands, putting the Cubs ahead to stay. Patterson also dove for a ball in center, showing no lingering problems from his reconstructive knee surgery.
Patterson also opened spring training with a home run.
“He’s hungry because he missed all the fun last year and wants to be part of it this year,” Alou said.
Sosa went 0-for-4 with a walk, failing to get the ball out of the infield in his first three at-bats. He put his mark on the ballpark last season—a dent in the top of the batters’ eye in center—but couldn’t put his mark on the game.
Neither could Wood, who needed 95 pitches to make it through five innings. The right-hander gave up five hits and four runs, striking out six, and repeatedly worked deep in the count.
“I got a little out of whack—not bad,” Wood said. “It was first-game adrenaline, opening day and all of that.”
Alou doubled home three runs in the third inning off Cory Lidle, who took the loss in his first opening-day start. Joe Borowski got three outs for the save, polishing off an upbeat opener for a team trying to shad its legacy as lovable losers.
Only five outs from their first World Series appearance since 1945, the Cubs imploded last season. Instead of merely moping for five months, they improved the lineup and rotation, aiming to finally break out.
“All the things they say about Chicago is going to be over pretty soon,” Sosa said before the game.
The Reds are just aiming for respectability in their second season at Great American Ball Park. Fans staged a near-mutiny last year when they moved into the taxpayer-financed park, traded stars to save money and lost 93 games.
Owner Carl Lindner was booed when he walked onto the field before the game, a measure of the lingering discontent. Lindner slashed $15 million off last year’s payroll—it’s now around $42 million—leaving little hope of a quick turnaround.
It probably was the last home opener for Larkin, who turns 40 later this month and expects to retire after the season. He went 0-for-4 with a walk in his 17th Cincinnati opener, matching Pete Rose and Bid McPhee for most infranchise history.
The Cubs have played 34 season openers against the Reds, the most against any opponent, going 19-15. … Manager Dusty Baker decided to bat 1B Derrek Lee sixth after consulting the newcomer before the game. Baker tinkered with his lineup during spring training, looking for the right combination. … The Reds lost the inaugural game at their new park to Pittsburgh 10-1 last year. … Griffey might sit out a few more games this week, working on getting his calf back to full strength. … Griffey has seven opening day homers,trailing Frank Robinson by one for the major league record.