Cubs play through smoke, lose first game back from London 5-1 to Phillies

The Cubs opened a seven-game homestand on Tuesday.

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Jameson Taillon #50 of the Chicago Cubs delivers a pitch to Nick Castellanos #8 of the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning at Wrigley Field on June 27, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois.

Jameson Taillon #50 of the Chicago Cubs delivers a pitch to Nick Castellanos #8 of the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning at Wrigley Field on June 27, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois.

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The burnt smell was the first sign something was wrong. Then it became clear the haze over Wrigley Field that shrouded the distant high-rises to the north wasn’t cloud cover or fog.

Wildfire smoke coming down from Canada made Chicago’s air quality Tuesday the worst among big cities worldwide. Leading up to the series opener against the Phillies, which the Cubs lost 5-1, the team had check-in calls with MLB every hour on the hour, manager David Ross said. The decision on whether to postpone rested with MLB and the players association.

Outfielder Ian Happ, a member of the union’s executive subcommittee, gauged whether his teammates were comfortable playing.

“The recommendation was that the levels were playable and there wasn’t going to be any harm, that we were good to go out there,” Happ said, adding there was no set line that would have triggered a postponement.

Earlier this month, MLB did postpone games in New York and Philadelphia because of poor air quality. When that decision came down in the late afternoon June 7, AirNow.gov was reporting an air-quality index score of 413 in the Bronx and 233 in Philadelphia. Anything above 200 is considered “very unhealthy” and anything over 300 “hazardous.”

At the time of Tuesday’s first pitch at Wrigley, the air quality registered at 254, gradually improving over the course of the game.

Cubs starter Jameson Taillon, who has long been involved with the players association, was on a text thread with several other union representatives.

“It seems like MLB got the information that they wanted to see, as far as the air quality was supposed to get better by start time and get better throughout the night,” he said. “So they felt comfortable with it, and I guess we had to trust that.”

Happ said he could smell and taste the smoke. Center fielder Cody Bellinger said he could feel it in his throat, along with dryness in his mouth, but overall felt fine.

“I think we won’t know until we’re a day or two down the road if there’s any effects,” Happ said.

When the sun went down, visibility on the field suffered.

“There was that high fly ball to right field [that] Seiya [Suzuki] caught that I don’t think anybody saw very well off the bat,” Happ said. “But, you know, playing the elements.”

The smoke only exacerbated a physically taxing week for the Cubs, who flew from Pittsburgh to London for a two-game series against the Cardinals after their game last Wednesday. They contended with the swelling and aches that come from a seven-hour flight, and then the jet lag that goes with a six-hour time difference from Chicago.

Late on Sunday, less than four days after arriving in England, they boarded another plane to head back. They had one day off to recover. Second baseman Nico Hoerner had been optimistic about their ability to bounce back physically.

“The first day in England was definitely a transition, landing at 10 [a.m.] and trying to stay up,” he said before Tuesday’s game. “But now I think we’re feeling pretty good now.”

Ross was more cautious.

“We’re still going through it, if I’m being honest,” he said Tuesday. “We’ve got the next couple of days to try to see how things continue to shake out, listen to the players, how they’re feeling, what you see within their performance, and try to do the best we can to take care of that.”

It’s unclear exactly how the London Series and Tuesday’s air conditions affected the perform-ance against the Phillies. Taillon (2-6) gave up home runs to Brandon Marsh in the second and fifth innings and left after five, having allowed five runs and seven hits. The offense had just two hits in the first seven innings.

But the Cubs did show signs of life in the eighth, converting singles from Cody Bellinger, Nick Madrigal and Hoerner into their only run.

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