Cubs’ 12-month firework show still bursting in air after comeback
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The Cubs didn’t get a hit Monday night until their 26th batter of the game singled softly up the middle in the seventh inning.
Two batters later, fireworks went off over the center field scoreboard — and the Cubs still hadn’t scored a run against the Cincinnati Reds.
“I thought somebody was having a party and didn’t invite us,” David Ross said.
So the Cubs did what they’ve been doing for the last 13 months. They didn’t wait for an invitation. And started their own party instead.
A two-out, two-run single by Jason Heyward in the seventh and three-run homer by shortstop Addison Russell in the eighth turned Brandon Finnegan’s no-hit bid into a footnote and the Cubs’ into the team with the best record in the National League – with a 5-3 victory over the Reds in their home opener.
On a day they unveiled a luxurious, spacious new clubhouse and christened a fully-loaded dance-party room off the main dressing area, the Cubs continued a 2016 fireworks-like launch to their season that has all but obliterated any memories of just how far this team has come in the last 12 months.
Unless you’re Jon Lester, Monday night’s starter for the Cubs, who opened last season with a loss, when he was backed by a lineup that did not include Russell or Heyward – much less Kris Bryant or Ben Zobrist.
“For me it’s a little bit different than maybe Zo and Heyward and [Wednesday’s starter John Lackey],” said Lester, who became the Cubs’ watershed signing when he agreed to a six-year, $155 million deal coming off five consecutive fifth-place Cub finishes.
“Coming off the 2014 season, where it wasn’t too good and just really trying to listen and believe in the upside of all these guys that had never played in the big leagues,” Lester said of the visions Cub executives pitched during the free agency process. “You’re trying to believe in those promises.”
And then Kris Bryant debuts and wins the Rookie of the Year award. And Addison Russell breaks in and winds up as the starting shortstop. And Kyle Schwarber debuts in midseason and starts hitting home runs. And they win 97 games. And they go to the playoffs. And they beat the Cardinals in October.
And they sign Heyward and Zobrist and Lackey.
And they beat the Reds with five runs in their final eight plate appearances Monday after failing to get a hit in their first 25. And Wrigley Field is as chilled and loud as October.
“And they know how to deal with the expectations now,” Lester said. “We’re only seven games in but I think it has relaxed these guys a little bit. And allowed them to just go out and play baseball.”
Relaxed? Even the level-headed, understated Russell broke character for a brief display of airplane-wing celebration when he hit his big first-pitch homer off Jumbo Diaz – before composing himself again.
“I usually don’t pimp homers, but opening night, we were down – the situation called for it,” Russell said with a smile.
It’s just one week into a 162-game season.
“You’ve got to keep the pedal down,” manager Joe Maddon said.
But from where this group has come in barely a year – from the way the team on the field looks to the way the sparkling, mood-lit new clubhouse looks – the vision Lester was forced to trust seems as visible as the rocket’s red glare over the scoreboard in the seventh.
“Jon saw it first hand in Boston [with this front office],” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “So he knows what these guys are capable of.
“And even all this,” he added, gesturing to the clubhouse. “They showed us the blueprints, they showed us the 3D mockup, and you say, `It’s going to be nice, but we’ll see.’ It’s just unbelievable.”
As for those fireworks that went off in the seventh? Maybe a little premature?
Maybe as premature as thinking about October in April?
“They should continue to do it,” Bryant said. “Whoever that is, keep it going.”