Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
By GORDON WITTENMYER
PITTSBURGH – Anthony Rizzo made a conspicuous first impression in the Cubs’ season opener. Unfortunately for the Cubs, so did Brent Lillibridge.
But between Rizzo’s bleacher-clearing two-run homer in the first inning, and Jeff Samardzija’s ability to survive the first and pitch shutout ball through six, the Cubs took a 3-0 lead into the seventh inning of Monday’s opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Starlin Castro got a jump on reigning National League hits king Andrew McCutchen with a pair of singles in his first two at-bats, including one just ahead of Rizzo’s first-pitch homer – which cleared the right-center bleachers, presumably headed for the Alleghany River (albeit, on a bounce).
The Cubs, however, felt the sting almost immediately of losing their Gold Glove second baseman, Darwin Barney, to a knee injury. Barney, who took five stitches to close a gash on his left kneecap Saturday, went on the disabled list before the game.
His replacement, utility man Lillibridge, muffed the first grounder hit to him, with one out and one on in the first – a potential double play ball – to extend what became a 21-pitch inning for Samardzija.
He also bounced a ball to first on a potential double-play relay later in the inning.
Lillibridge later robbed Garrett Jones of a hit in the sixth on a diving play to his left for the second out.
After the first-inning error, Samardzija retired 18 of the next 20 he faced through six, including seven strikeouts.
Catcher Welington Castillo’s second double of the game, in the sixth, drove home Nate Schierholtz from first. Schierholtz had reached when hit by a pitch – after hitting a single and drawing a walk in his first two plate appearances.
Castillo was caught in a rundown between second and third on the play for the second out of the sixth.
But his double knocked Pirates starter A.J. Burnett from the game. Burnett became the first Pirates pitcher since John Candelaria 30 years ago to strike out 10 in an opener.