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AZ 6, Cubs 16: Opening Gray

Record 0-1, change from last season 0

How quickly the crispy bacon of pre-season hope becomes the blackened cinder of reality, tasting only of ashes. About 1.2 innings, to be precise, by which time we'd seen our staff "ace" get slapped around for ten hits and seven runs, then ignomiously yanked from the game. And I was so optimistic: yesterday, I had on my 2001 World Series T-shirt, under my Byung-Hung Kim D'backs shirt [there's a collector's item!] and was really looking forward to it.

But it all fell apart on the drive into work, as the Cubs teed off on Vazquez. Bloops or deep drives, it didn't matter - the hits just kept on coming, each one driving another nail into the coffin of my optimism. By the time I got to work, I was slumped in the passenger seat, debating whether to lose the shirt before going in - I didn't [heck, my fandom is made of sterner stuff than that], but it was clearly not my day. And so it continued: I had nowhere to sit at Go Daddy for the first 45 minutes, and spent hours doing...ack...phone support. Not my day.

Personally, I blame Ryne Sandberg. He threw out the first pitch at the game - yes, one of the visiting team's former stars. Look, I know there probably were more Cubs fans there than D'backs ones (though the game was several thousand short of a sellout), but do you think the Yankees let a Red Sox veteran throw out the first pitch of the season? I mean, frickin' Muhammad Ali, a cultural icon, was at the game - though I admit throwing a strike might be beyond him these days. On yesterday's performance though, we might still be better off signing him to replace Vazquez.

We can take some comfort from the game, offensively, if not from a pitching point of view. I'll certainly take 12 hits, a .333 average, and, remarkably, seven walks, which is probably pretty close to our best figure all of last season. Two walks each for Counsell, Green and Cruz, while Tracy responded to our pre-season poll with three hits, while Shawn Green added two. Gonzo had one hit, but it was a beauty: a 2-out, RBI, bunt single, that will hopefully help negate the shift that opposing teams apply when he's at the plate.

However, you won't win many games where your pitchers allow twenty-three hits to the opposition. Vazquez reckoned he was tipping his hand, but that sounds like someone desperately flailing around for an excuse. Derrek Lee of the Cubs was likely closer to the mark: "He wasn't his normal self. I think it was probably a little too much adrenaline. He was leaving the ball up. His breaking ball wasn't as sharp as normal." Of course, you don't expect Lee to say, "He's tipping pitches," but this certainly fits what I saw on TV, which looked like high-velocity batting practice.

Brian Bruney stopped the bleeding for a little while, and was likely the only pitcher to come out of this massacre with any credit: four hitters faced, all retired, two on strikeouts. Gosling wobbled through the fourth, allowing three hits but only one run, then Aquino came in - you know it's not a good day when your closer appears in the fifth. He allowed another run, then was left in for the sixth, and promptly blew up, allowing three runs without getting an out.

Another bad sign shambled out to replace him: our #5 starter, forced into mop-up duties on Opening Day. And if this is what we can expect, it won't be pretty, as Halsey allowed four runs on six hits over four innings - only two were "earned", but since the pitcher made the error himself, I'm reluctant to call the other two "unearned". We did get the last word though, Hill knocking in his second RBI of the day in the bottom of the ninth to make the final score 16-6. Did anyone get the number of that truck?

It was the biggest thrashing we've received at the BOB since September 2nd, 2002, when Los Angeles creamed us 19-1, in the infamous game where Mark Grace pitched. Heck, I wouldn't have been surprised if Bob Melvin had called Grace down from the broadcast booth in the seventh-innings stretch, after the Cubs took a 14-3 lead. [While the crowd performed a rousing rendition of "Take Me Out From The Ballgame"...]

But it is just one game, and counts for only 0.6% of our season record, uber-blowout though it was; a 1-0 loss would have left us in exactly the same position. As is, we're still tied with the division favourites, the Padres, who suffered perhaps an even more devastating defeat in Colorado, Trevor Hoffman allowing four runs in the ninth. And I really don't think the Rockies will be atop the NL West for long! So, no need to panic...yet. :-)