‘‘Adversity is a good thing for the soul, brother,’’ wise man and healer Joe Maddon said before the Cubs’ home opener Monday.
Most of the team’s troubles in the first nine games of the season had been self-inflicted, but no one in the manager’s sweat-lodge audience thought to ask him if that meant points off in the soul-reviving department.
No matter. Much of it was quickly forgotten in the glow of sunshine, warmth, runs and — what’s this strange entity? — a functioning bullpen.
On a lovely day at Wrigley Field, everything got better in a 10-0 laugher over the Pirates. Well, everything except Jon Lester’s tight left hamstring, which forced him to leave the game in the third inning. He got hurt running the bases and will have an MRI exam Tuesday.
All that sun and one dark cloud. Perhaps Joe can lay hands on the hammy and make it better.
“I don’t think it’s that bad,” Lester said. “Everybody on the training staff always kind of takes a worst-case scenario. I don’t feel that way. [Tuesday], we’ll have more information.”
Even Lester’s troubles can be looked upon as good news. You might strain a muscle looking at it that way, but it can be done. Until Brad Brach rode to the rescue in the third, the idea of Cubs relievers running to the mound had not brought fans a sense of peace. But four pitchers combined to throw seven scoreless innings in relief of Lester.
So there’s that.
“I want to believe that a day like this will build the confidence that [the bullpen] sorely needs,” Maddon said.
The Cubs’ record jumped to 3-7. If it weren’t for Lester’s leg trouble, their collective soul might have sighed in contentment.
“You always look to see who looks good when things are going bad,” Maddon said. “When things are going well, it’s easy for everybody to look good. . . . When things are not going your way and you’re still that same person, that’s the guy I want.”
The Cubs know they have that person in Lester, the player they’ve relied on when things have been dark. He had been one of the few bright spots so far this season. It’s why so many Cubs fingers are crossed right now.
The emphasis on getting off to a hot start backfired on the Cubs, though team president Theo “October Starts in March” Epstein said Monday that the “sense of urgency” angle was a media creation. OK, fine. Let’s agree that things went really bad in the first nine games, that things went well enough in the 10th game and that perhaps Monday’s success will be something to build upon.
“That’s the great thing about the rhythm of baseball,” Epstein said. “There’s an opportunity each and every day to write your own script.”
The Cubs got some writing help from the Pirates, who allowed six runs in the second inning, all after two outs. That inning included three errors, an RBI double by Lester and a line shot off the noggin of Pirates starter Jameson Taillon, who stayed in the game.
It was the fifth game in which the Cubs have scored 10 runs or more this season. So, no, hitting isn’t the problem. They need more reliable pitching, urgently.
“I don’t need the word ‘urgency,’” Maddon said. “I want us to get better one week at a time. That’s all I want. You’ve got to be careful with semantics, man, because you don’t know how everybody’s going to interpret them. I want them to really process today, period.”
“Today” was good, but it came with an asterisk. The Cubs won big, yet walked off the field wondering if their steadiest pitcher will be available for his next start. After a strange, awkward start to a season, that actually made perfect sense.