0-for-$155 million: Cubs, new ace Jon Lester fall to Cards in opener

SHARE 0-for-$155 million: Cubs, new ace Jon Lester fall to Cards in opener
SHARE 0-for-$155 million: Cubs, new ace Jon Lester fall to Cards in opener

Of course, the Cubs aren’t going to go 0-162.

But after nearly four months of buildup and more than three hours of the stuff that counts, they’re 0h-for-155 million.

Not even the Cubs’ new big-money ace Jon Lester will say otherwise after pitching into trouble throughout his start and failing to get through five innings in Sunday’s 3-0 Opening Night loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at surreal, bleacher-less Wrigley Field.

“Not much was working. It was a little bit of a grind from the get-go,” said Lester, the Cubs’ $155 million centerpiece of their splashiest off-season in eight years. “A lot of balls up in the zone. Just wasn’t real sharp.”

Lester, whose fifth career Opening Day start was his shortest, wasn’t alone in the first-day deflation of a hype bubble that had been growing since celebrity manager Joe Maddon’s October hiring and throughout a spring of fast-heating optimism.

The revamped, veteran-infused lineup went 0-for-13 with men in scoring position. “It’s an industrywide problem,” Maddon cracked. “We’ve gone though that before.”

The Cardinals also stole four bases, including three with Lester on the mound. And both catchers in the game committed throwing errors.

“We feel all right. I think we competed,” All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro said. “We hit a lot of balls at people. We didn’t have that luck that we needed today. But we had a lot of emotion out on the field. It was not a really lucky day, but we can get it.”

It didn’t help the hitters they were facing Cub-killer Adam Wainwright, who went six innings without a walk to improve to 9-1 with a 3.30 ERA in his career at Wrigley Field.

“He was all right,” said Castro, who said Wainwright seemed to get tougher with men on base — the Cubs failing to score despite leadoff doubles in the first and second.

Said first baseman Anthony Rizzo (a walk and two strikeouts): “It’s one game.”

It was a day that started with rave reviews over the new video board in left, one of the few things completed in an outfield devoid of bleachers and showing exposed steel in right and plywood in left.

It was a day that continued a couple hours before the game with a rabbit let loose on the field as the Cubs were finishing batting practice, scrambling between and around relief pitchers and trying unsuccessfully to escape through the center field wall before eventually being corralled.

“At least it’s not a black cat,” cracked one Cubs employee.

A moving video tribute to Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, including a moment of silence, highlighted a pregame buildup of buzz to Lester’s long anticipated first pitch as a Cub.

“It was an awesome atmosphere tonight,” Lester said. “Everything I expected it to be, plus some. Especially without any fans in the bleachers. I tried to take it all in the best I could, but at the same time I would have liked to have given them something to cheer for a little bit more than we were able to tonight.”

Lester hadn’t faced big-league hitters in three weeks because of a “dead-arm” stretch in mid-March, leading to finishing the spring with a pair of starts in minor-league scrimmages.

He pitched into trouble throughout Sunday’s start, eventually lifted at 89 pitches with one in, one out and two on in the fifth – Phil Coke replacing him and pitching out of the jam to keep the 3-0 deficit from growing.

“He wasn’t as sharp as he can be, that’s obvious,” Maddon said. “The cutter wasn’t there for him tonight. The velocity started out really well in the first inning, up to 93-94, and it looked like he could find it when he wanted to after that. But I don’t think his breaking ball was where he wanted it to be tonight.”

Lester said he didn’t think Sunday’s flat outing had anything to do with lingering effects from either the dead-arm issue or the cut-back spring schedule.

Said Maddon: “He just really hasn’t had a chance to nail everything down yet. Of course, I believe he will.

“I’m not really concerned about Jon Lester at all.”

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