For the first time since September 2019, a sizable crowd saw a baseball game at Wrigley Field as the Cubs opened the 2021 season at a chilly Wrigley Field.
But the warm feelings from Chicago’s first sporting event with fans since the pandemic began quickly faded in the Cubs’ 5-3 Opening Day loss to the Pirates.
The Pirates aren’t going to lead the National League in runs scored this season, but the Cubs gave them every opportunity to do damage and paid the price in the loss.
The Cubs’ pitching staff didn’t do themselves any favors on Thursday as they struggled to find the strike zone against Pittsburgh. Regardless of where the Pirates are predicted to finish in the NL Central, it’s hard to beat any team issuing 11 walks in a game. While the Pirates only scored five runs in the game, it could have easily been more with Pittsburgh leaving 15 runners on base.
“That’s a tough thing to watch,” manager David Ross said. “11 free passes, 12 with the hit batter. You gotta fill up the zone, especially on a cold day at Wrigley Field. The walks are gonna hurt you.”
Starter Kyle Hendricks didn’t have his Opening Day magic like he did last season when he tossed a complete-game shutout. The Cubs’ ace was uncharacteristically wild and was unable to get into a rhythm during his 63-pitch outing.
There wasn’t much contact after Ke’Bryan Hayes’ first-inning, two-run shot, but Hendricks couldn’t locate his fastball and often found himself in several three-ball counts.
“I was just, from pitch one, kind of battling myself,” Hendricks said. “It was a fight. Just not in a good position at the top of my balance point right now. It’s usually a small adjustment for me, but now obviously, I’ve got to put in some work and just find that spot to get through the baseball better.”
“Every time Kyle takes the mound, we’re expecting and he’s expecting himself to go deep [into games],” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “So whenever he doesn’t go deep and it raises your eyebrows. But he’s so routine-oriented and he’s such a hard worker behind the scenes. I just told him, ‘You know, you can’t throw a complete game shutout every Opening Day.”
Hendricks allowed three runs on four hits over his three innings of work, earning his first loss of the season. He struck out four and walked three. It’s the first time Hendricks has walked three or more batters in a game since April 1, 2019 against Atlanta.
“Just command-wise, really starting with the fastball. It was terrible and lead-off walks,” Hendricks said. “Just lead off guys in general, getting on base just set a terrible town for the group. We’ve got to reset. I guess good news is we have 161 more, but got to flip that around. Can’t let that happen again.”
But Hendricks wasn’t the only Cub who was unable to throw strikes consistently. Seven of eight Cubs pitchers who appeared in the game walked at least one batter and allowed the lead-off man to reach by walk six times. The 11 walks are their most allowed since walking 12 on March 30, 2019, against the Rangers.
The offense looked eerily similar to the last time they played at a cold Wrigley Field in the postseason. They managed just two hits against Pirates pitching during the opener with one hit after the first inning.
“I don’t put a lot of stock in this one, but you know,, it counts now and you want to win them all,” Ross said. “You try to move forward. Hopefully, we learned some lessons today. … I know there are some things that stood out that we can be better at. We’ve got to pay attention to some small details. Even when we are walking guys and not hitting, there’s some other things that need to be cleaned up.”