CINCINNATI (AP)—With another 16-run outburst, the Cubs showed they’ve mastered the art of the fast start.
Of course, finishing has always been this franchise’s problem.
Chicago rolled to its fourth straight opening day victory Monday, 16-7 over a Cincinnati Reds team that could bring the president to town but couldn’t stop the Cubs’ run of first-game success.
“It went better than we could have hoped,” said Walker, who was 3-for-4 with three RBIs. “The only thing I can think is that we did the same thing last year and dropped the next two to Arizona.”
The Cubs set a franchise record for opening day runs in a 16-6 victory over Arizona last year, then wound up finishing in fourth place in the NL Central, right ahead of Cincinnati.
The Reds hadn’t given up so many runs on opening day since ’77—1877, that is, in a 24-6 loss to Louisville during the third month of Rutherford B. Hayes’ presidency.
“In the sixth inning, it didn’t seem like anything went our way,” manager Jerry Narron said. “It was a nightmare inning for anybody. You don’t like to see that happen to anybody, especially your own team.”
President George W. Bush threw a ceremonial pitch at the invitation of new Reds owner Bob Castellini, one of his former ownership partners in the Texas Rangers. No current president had ever thrown an opening day pitch in Cincinnati.
With that little bit of history out of the way, the Cubs made a little more.
They scored five runs in the first inning, completed by Murton’s three-run homer. The Reds hadn’t given up five runs in the first inning of an opener since that loss to Louisville eight years after they became baseball’s first professional team.
Then, Chicago sent a dozen batters to the plate to take control in the sixth inning, extending its stretch of impressive first games. The Cubs scored 15 runs in the 2003 opener, tying what was then the club record, and topped it with a 16-6 victory in Arizona last year that set the new standard—now tied.
It’s the first time since 1950-55 that they’ve won four consecutive openers. They’ve piled up 54 runs in those four games.
Two of those four wins have come over Cincinnati, mired in its deepest slump since 1955—five straight losing seasons—and looked like more of the same under new ownership. Left fielder Adam Dunn, a fellow Texan who chatted with Bush in the clubhouse before the game, provided a signature moment when he turned the wrong way and then fell on the warning track while chasing Derrek Lee’s RBI double in the sixth.
Dunn got cheered sarcastically every time he caught a fly ball for the rest of the game.
“If you want to say we’re going to go out and stink up the season, go ahead, but it’s not going to ruin my season,” said Dunn, who also dropped a fly ball for an error. “If you want me to say we’re going to go 0-162, I’m not going to do that. I’m not writing off my season because of opening day.”
By contrast, the Cubs looked right at home on a raw afternoon with the wind blowing out—much like Wrigley Field in April.
Murton got it going with his eighth major league homer, hit off loser Aaron Harang. He also slammed into the scoreboard in the left-field wall to catch Austin Kearns’ fly with the bases loaded in the bottom of the inning.
“The wind out there was a tough thing,” said Murton, 24, a key part of the Cubs’ youngest opening day lineup since 1977. “You had to give it your best effort and keep your feet moving.”
For the second year in a row, Carlos Zambrano failed to make it through the fifth inning of an opening day start. Scott Hatteberg hit a three-run homer, and Dunn tied it with a leadoff shot in the fifth.
Twelve batters later, the Cubs regained control and ended the suspense. Will Ohman got the win in relief of Zambrano.
Before the game, Bush visited the Reds’ clubhouse and shook hands with each player in front of his locker. He received a black bat from Ken Griffey Jr., who patted the president on the back of his right shoulder.
Then, he was off to visit the Cubs for another quick go-around. As Bush entered the clubhouse of a team that hasn’t won the World Series since 1908, he said, “So, this is the year, right?”
Bush wore a red-and-black Reds warmup jacket for his on-the-fly toss to catcher Jason LaRue, another fellow Texan who squatted behind the plate even though he had knee surgery a week earlier. … The Cubs have played the Reds more than any other team in season openers, going 17-15 and winning nine of 12. … The Reds are 1-3 in openers at Great American.