Old habits die hard for Cubs against Wainwright, Cardinals

ByJon Greenberg via ESPN logo
Monday, April 6, 2015

CHICAGO -- Joe Maddon likes to tell stories, and before his first game as the newChicago Cubsmanager, he spun a yarn about an old scout, Loyd Christopher, who worked with Maddon in the Angels organization.

Christopher, who was born in 1919 and passed away in 1991, appearing in one game for the 1945 Cubs in between, was an intense guy, Maddon said. And, like every scout ever brought up in civilized conversations, full of old-school baseball wisdom.

"One day we're having a conversation and I brought up the word 'hope' and he got really upset with me," Maddon said. "He says you never hope for anything in a situation like this, you just go out and make it happen.

"Hope is a quality or attribute or thought, that when you're in a desperate moment, is probably really necessary. But in our circumstances, we're trying to make this magic occur, so Loyd taught me not to hope."

That's good advice around these parts.

Maddon's hiring and Jon Lester's signing helped bring a little hope to a franchise in the middle of an all-out rebuild. But hope doesn't drive in runners from third or hold runners at first.

Is hope still a four-letter word in Wrigleyville, where a giant TV screen rose like a phoenix out of the bleachers' ashes, and the hated St. Louis Cardinalsstill rule?

For another day, at least.

The Cardinals blanked the Cubs 3-0 in the North Siders' much-awaited season opener Sunday night.

Some things never change, right?

The new 3,900-square-foot videoboard in left field had a strong Wrigley Field debut, mixing in sponsored content and a ton of straight advertisements with touching videos of the late Ernie Banks and, what do you know, actual close-up shots of the action.

As for Jon Lester, well, the second start should be better for the Cubs' $155 million man.

From the big board to Lester to Maddon to the rejuvenated expectations of the home team playing Major League Baseball at Wrigley Field, "new beginnings" was the theme in the opener.

But, as they often do, old habits died hard as the Cubs' hitters went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position against Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright.

"It's an industry-wide problem," Maddon said with a smile.

I'm no expert, but I feel like the Cubs were short one really talented hitter. Can't put my finger on whom it could be. It wasn't 25th man Matt Szczur, maybe someone playing for Triple-A Iowa.

Also missing at Wrigley were fans in the outfield. The bleachers are more than a month from even partially opening for business. Shortstop Starlin Castro, one of the few Cubs veterans, said they missed watching the fans out there.

"We miss them, because we're always looking back at them yelling," he said. "Yelling at each other, yelling at left field, yelling at right field."

Castro had high marks for the videoboard, though the anti-Castro crowd might look at it as another distraction for him while in the field.

"That's what we do on the road, we watch ourselves on the scoreboard," he said. "Now we watch at home."

There weren't many Cubs highlights to watch, aside from the Banks archive material.

Lester couldn't make it out of the fifth inning, getting pulled after 4 innings and 89 pitches. He struck out six, walked two and gave up three runs on eight hits. His cutter wasn't cutting and his velocity peaked early.

"Not much working," Lester said. "I wasn't very sharp. The ball was flat. Anytime I get that many fly balls, I know I'm not where I need to be."

The season opener is built for over-reactions, but savvy baseball critics know you don't rip the team to shreds until at least the sixth game.

I'll give Lester, what, two more starts before I call it the worst deal in Cubs history.

Just kidding, everyone. He gets like five starts.

While it wasn't perfect, I judged the opener as a success only because I expected the videoboard to wipe out power from Waveland Avenue to Western Avenue, and the press box to collapse. I'm a traditionalist. Things have a way of going wrong here.

As for the Cubs' new "Let's Go" motto, it should be replaced with "Don't Go" until the renovated bathrooms in the 100-level are finished.

But when it comes to these early problems, we should all let the sunny Maddon be our guide.

At least the fans stuck in bathroom lines for 20 minutes didn't miss a Kris Bryant at-bat.

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