CINCINNATI (AP)—Snowflakes filled the air, making it tough to track fly balls. A sharp northerly wind made sandwich wrappers float above the heads of red-faced fans bundled in blankets.
Ted Lilly loved everything about his frozen Cubs debut.
The left-hander pitched seven strong innings Wednesday night, leading Chicago to a 4-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds that left everyone except Lilly wishing for warmth.
“I definitely like pitching in cold weather,” Lilly said.
It showed. Lilly allowed only three singles and struck out nine on a blustery night, puffing into his cupped left hand between pitches to keep the feeling in his fingertips. Lilly was a key part of the Cubs’ offseason spending spree, getting a four-year, $40 million deal.
Mark DeRosa, another of the six free agents signed in the offseason, broke the game open with a bases-loaded single in the eighth off reliever Todd Coffey. Aramis Ramirez also had three singles off loser Bronson Arroyo.
The victory was Chicago’s first under manager Lou Piniella, who was out of baseball for a year after working out a deal to leave Tampa Bay.
“That’s a lot of time between wins, I can tell you that,” Piniella said. “It feels good. I enjoy winning.”
Fans were bundled in winter coats and blankets for the first pitch, when it was 39 degrees. A snow burst in the fourth inning made it tricky to track fly balls.
Lilly (1-0) doesn’t seem to mind the early season shivers. April is the best month of his career, featuring two of his four complete games, and he got this month off to a good start by stumping a team he had never faced.
“I felt good out there,” said Lilly, who fought off an ear infection the last few days. “Warming up takes a little bit longer. Once I got loose and got going, I was good.”
Only three players in Cincinnati’s lineup had ever batted against Lilly, who spent the last seven seasons in the American League. His pitches were almost as variable as the weather, registering between 64 and 88 mph.
“His slow curveball works well off of his fastball,” Reds catcher David Ross said. “His fastball’s not off the charts, but there’s a big change of speed with his curveball. Guys who are around the same speeds are easier to time, but guys like Lilly take a little longer.”
“I said it was 30 degrees and it was snowing, get the ball over the plate and you’ll win a ballgame,” Piniella said.
While Lilly wore long sleeves to help avoid the chill, Arroyo (0-1) pitched in short sleeves and didn’t even wear a jacket after he reached on a bunt single.
“I want to feel like a ballplayer,” said Arroyo, who pitched into the eighth. “I’m not going to wear a jacket like a schoolgirl. I want to play the game.”
The game marked another notable switch for Griffey, who moved from center field to right during spring training. Manager Jerry Narron batted him fifth, the first time Griffey hit so low in the order since May 6-8, 2004.
Griffey singled to right for the Reds’ first hit leading off the fifth inning. Adam Dunn broke the shutout with a two-out, run-scoring single off the base of the right-field wall in the sixth.
A Cubs roster that got a $300 million infusion in the offseason got a few breakthroughs in the fourth inning—its first earned run and first lead of the season.
Arroyo, who went 4-0 in five starts against Chicago last season, got himself in trouble by giving up singles to Ramirez (who got a $75 million offseason deal), Cliff Floyd ($3 million) and DeRosa ($13 million).
Cesar Izturis’ single through the hole at second base scored Ramirez, and a botched play on a bunt let in another run. Lilly popped up a bunt that landed in front of the plate between Arroyo and Ross. The Reds could have easily gotten the forceout at home—Floyd held third when he saw the popup—but Ross threw to second instead, allowing the run to score.
It was 72 degrees for the first pitch of the season opener Monday, which the Reds won 5-1. … Lilly’s bunt produced the first RBI of his career. … OF Matt Murton was the Cubs’ emergency catcher. Backup C Henry Blanco was in Florida to testify in the trial of agent Gustavo “Gus” Dominguez and five others accused of conspiring to smuggle Cubans into the United States. Blanco is not charged. … Reds 3B Edwin Encarnacion reached on catcher’s interference in the sixth. He reached on interference four times last season. … Reds LHP Eric Milton threw to hitters before the game. Milton, on the disabled list because of a sore back, is expected to be activated and start Sunday’s game against the Phillies.