Published April 01, 2011
CHICAGO – Play the Chicago Cubs enough times and maybe the Pittsburgh Pirates would escape the cellar of the NL Central. Or not end up with the worst record in the majors, as they did a year ago.
Neil Walker hit a grand slam and Andrew McCutchen also homered Friday at Wrigley Field as the Pirates opened their season under new manager Clint Hurdle with a 6-3 victory over the team they beat frequently a year ago.
The Pirates lost a majors-worst 105 times last year, but 10 of their 57 victories during their 18th straight losing season came against the Cubs in 15 meetings.
Now they have another, and it came as the Pirates won their fifth straight season opener.
"It's definitely good confidence builder for us," Walker said. "It's a good win to come into somebody else's opening day and steal a win."
The victory was a wet one as rain fell most of the game. It was an enjoyable day for Hurdle and his young team.
"There's a time when you take a shower and then you have to get ready for the next game, but I don't want to take away their joy," Hurdle said.
"They need to have some joy, they need to have some fun and they did today. Two swings of the bat plated six, they pitched well off the mound, threw some big fastballs late. It was a good day for the Pirates."
Walker's grand slam came off Ryan Dempster (0-1) on a 3-2 pitch, a long drive to right that ended up on Sheffield Avenue and gave the Pirates a 4-2 lead in the fifth.
"Opening days are special. This one was significant in its own right. Four in the fifth, to back it up with two in the seventh. And we pitched better than they did today," Hurdle said.
Kevin Correia (1-0) allowed seven hits and two earned runs. He gave up an unearned run in the first and another run on Carlos Pena's bases-loaded grounder in the third. He left after an infield popup by Darwin Barney dropped for a single starting the bottom of the seventh.
Chicago's loss, before a crowd of 41,358, spoiled Mike Quade's first game as the Cubs' full-time manager. He held the post on an interim basis for the final 37 games a year ago.
"We got beat by two big hits today and that happens," said Quade, who managed more than 2,000 minor league games before getting his chance at the highest level. "If we had played poorly and pitched poorly and played a poor game, I would have been more disappointed.
"The kid Walker is a nice player and McCutchen is who he is. We got to figure out how to get them out better."
With the Pirates trailing 2-0, Ryan Doumit began the fifth with a single and Dempster walked two around Correia's sacrifice, bringing up Walker.
"I knew I hit it good, but the adrenaline and everything else. ... I didn't quite know if I got enough for it to go over, but fortunately it did," Walker said.
"He was throwing away, trying to get me out away and was successful the first two times. Just tried to grind the at-bat out, got to 3-2 and fortunately he left a pitch out over the plate."
In the seventh, Walker doubled to right-center and McCutchen — who was 23 for 52 against the Cubs last season — followed with a homer just over the wall in left-center.
"Two quick outs and the guy hits a double and McCutchen hits the ball out," said Dempster who threw 114 pitches in his 6 2-3 innings, giving up six hits and six runs with four walks. "I felt strong but was not able to get the job done. ... When it's 4-2 and you're right in the game and give up those add-on runs, those usually end up putting you away."
The Cubs cut it to 6-3 when Kosuke Fukudome hit an RBI single to score Barney, who'd reached when his pop fell between the plate and the mound. Aramis Ramirez flied out to the track with two runners on.
Joel Hanrahan pitched the ninth for the Pirates, working around a walk and infield hit for the save.
Quade went incognito en route to Wrigley Field on Friday, wearing a hat and jacket while riding the elevated train from downtown that he caught around 8 a.m. He said he sat quietly in the back of the car with his head down so there was no chance of being recognized.
During the season, he'll live within walking distance of the park. And after games like Friday when the Cubs lost despite getting 11 hits, he'll need the jaunt to clear his thoughts.
With the game starting in a light rain on a 41-degree day, the Cubs got an unearned run in the first, thanks to some shaky fielding from Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez. He couldn't come up with a hard grounder from Starlin Castro that was ruled an infield single. He then caught Marlon Byrd's bouncer and threw the ball over first baseman Lyle Overbay's head as Castro raced home, sliding headfirst.
Pena got his first RBI with the Cubs in the third. After three singles, he hit a grounder that made it 2-0. Pena, signed as a free agent after spending the last four years in Tampa, also flashed his glove, making a couple of nice scoops of low throws on a wet infield.
NOTES: Both teams sported a remembrance of a well-known member of the organization who passed away since last season. The Cubs wore a No. 10 for former third baseman and popular broadcaster Ron Santo. The Pirates had a patch for Chuck Tanner, who managed the Bucs for nine years and led them to a World Series title in 1979. ... The Cubs held a moment of silence for Santo and for the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. ... Santo's son and daughter led the singing during the seventh inning stretch. ... Actor/Director Robert Redford threw out the first pitch and Kerry Wood, returning to the Cubs after playing in the AL for two years, caught it. A movie Redford directed, "The Conspirator," was produced by the American Film Co., which was founded by Joe Ricketts. Ricketts is the father of Cubs' chairman Tom Ricketts. ... The last time Pittsburgh won five straight season openers was from 1935-40 when the Pirates captured six in a row. ... The fans cheered when the sun made an appearance in the bottom of the ninth.