ST. LOUIS — Well, we can cross a perfect season off the list of possible follow-up acts for the defending World Series champion Cubs.
Sunday’s season-opening 4-3 defeat against the rival Cardinals was grueling and then some.
In a manner of speaking, the Cubs ended up right where they left off in 2016 — with late-inning drama, a light rain falling and reliever Mike Montgomery on the mound. Only this time, things didn’t end so well.
Jon Lester pitched five innings of one-run ball, striking out seven, but he was decisively out-dueled by Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez. The fireballing right-hander pitched into the eighth inning, striking out 10.
Three of those strikeouts were of reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant, whose fourth at-bat — against closer Seung Hwan Oh in the eighth — was even worse. With the Cubs trailing 1-0 and the bases loaded, Bryant lofted a lazy fly ball into right field that was too shallow to score Willson Contreras from third. Anthony Rizzo followed with a fly-out to right to end the threat.
Contreras had a heroic turn in the top of the ninth, drilling a three-run home run off Oh to tie the game and take Lester off the hook. With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth, though, Cardinals left fielder Randal Grichuk hit a shot to the wall off Montgomery for the winning knock.
Kyle Schwarber led off the game with a sharp single to right and doubled to right-center in his second at-bat, a bright spot on crisp night that turned rainy in the late innings.
The teams are off Monday. Game 2 of this three-game series will be Tuesday at 7:15 p.m., with Jake Arrieta opposing Adam Wainwright.
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