Steele hurt in Cubs walk-off loss to Rangers
Jerome Miron - USA Today Sports

Steele hurt in Cubs walk-off loss to Rangers

by - Senior Writer -

ARLINGTON — It was the beginning of a new era of Chicago Cubs (0-1) baseball Thursday night as Craig Counsell took over. In what has been one of the most highly anticipated managerial debuts in quite some time, Counsell had his work cut out for him as the Cubs headed to Globe Life Field to take on the defending World Series Champion Texas Rangers (1-0).

In a game filled with plenty of drama, especially late-game drama, nine innings wasn't enough, as this one went to extra innings. With the game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the 10th, Jonah Heim came to bat with a chance to redeem himself after costing his team a run earlier on a blown call by the home plate umpire. Looking to survive, the threat was Drew Smyly, who lived dangerously all inning long. That came back to bite him as Heim did redeem himself from earlier by lining one to right center as the Rangers walked off the Cubs 4-3 in the opener.

Not only was this loss a painful start to the season, but it also appears that the Cubs will now be without their ace Justin Steele, who exited the game with a hamstring injury.

Steele was picking up where he left off last season and held the Rangers to one run on three hits in 4 2/3 before that injury while striking out six batters.

“It's a left hamstring strain. We’ll get an MRI in the morning, likely IL. It's just a shame,” Counsell said. “I mean, he's pitching really, really well. Obviously, he's an important member of the team, and it looks like we're going to miss him for a little bit here.”

Counsell understands that the team needs to pick up the slack until Steele is back healthy.

“This is part of a baseball season. Injuries are going to happen, and rebound and recover from them. The next guy has to fill in, and everyone else has to pick up around them. You're going to have things like this happen during the season,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said. “First day of the season, it probably stings a little worse. But this is going to be part of our season, and it's testing us immediately.”

Opposing Steele was Nathan Eovaldi, who is coming off another dominating postseason run. For the most part, Eovaldi wasn't as sharp as he would've liked to be, but he still did his best to hold the Cubs to two runs. He struck out three but got away with a low pitch count early in the game before exiting after six innings.

As expected, runs were at a premium most of this game, but the Cubs made solid contact against Eovaldi early, only to have nothing to show for it. Eventually, you had to think that hard contact would pay off, and with Christopher Morel leading off the second with a triple, that was the moment it would. Dansby Swanson followed that up with a sacrifice fly to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead, but the offense stalled after that.

The Cubs held that lead until the fourth inning, as Steele retired eight consecutive hitters leading up to the Josh Jung one-out double to set the offense up. Adolis Garcia benefitted from an infield single to put runners on the corners, only to have the rookie sensation Wyatt Langford tie things up with a sacrifice fly of his own. Langford was the No. 4 overall selection in the 2023 MLB draft and, after just 44 Minor League games, has found himself firmly placed in the heart of the Texas lineup.

After tying things up in the fourth, Ezequiel Duran doubled to lead off the fifth, as the Rangers had something cooking once again. That was when things went south for the Cubs, as Steele made a phenomenal play on a slowly hit grounder only to come up injured on the play. He was removed from the game with what is being called a hamstring injury, and Julian Merryweather and the Cubs bullpen had to take over from there.

Fortunately for the Cubs, their offense wanted to win this game for Steele as Seiya Suzuki ignited a sixth-inning rally with a two-out double to keep things alive. Cody Bellinger answered with a double of his own, and just like that, the Cubs were back in front 2-1.

While getting the lead wasn't an issue for the Cubs, holding it was as Yency Almonte watched Garcia launch a solo shot to the moon in the bottom of the sixth, helping Texas draw even again 2-2.

Then came the top half of the seventh when Michael Busch singled off Josh Sborz to give the Cubs a baserunner while the two-out Nick Madrigal double appeared to give the Cubs the lead again. However, Madrigal saw his double hop the fence for a ground-rule double, thus forcing Busch back to third with no damage coming from that.

Busch would find himself as the center of attention as a pair of solid outings from Mark Leiter Jr and Hector Neris got this game to the ninth, tied 2-2. In that ninth inning, Busch showed great patience to work a one-out walk before advancing to second on a rare Nico Hoerner walk. That forced Counsell's hand to go to his bench as Miles Mastrobuoni was called on to pinch hit.

Facing an 0-1 count against Jose Leclerc, Mastrobuoni swung and missed at a splitter in the dirt as the pitch got away from Heim. Heim was adamant that Mastrobuoni fouled off the pitch, and after replay showed it was the case, the Cubs caught a break as Busch wound up scoring from second to give the Cubs a 3-2 lead.

Mastrobuoni would line out a few pitches later, but with the lead late, the Cubs called on Adbert Alzolay to slam the door shut.

After an incredible 2023, Alzolay is looking to have an even better season this year but clearly wants this outing back. One batter into his 2024 season, Alzolay has already blown one save after only three last season, with Travis Jankowski unloading for his 11th career bomb to tie things up 3-3. Alzolay wouldn't allow anything else, but after several well-struck balls and some command issues, he is someone to keep an eye on this season.

With nine innings not enough baseball to decide this one, it was time for extras, and former Cub David Robertson got the nod. For the most part, Robertson was good, but he did walk Ian Happ before intentionally walking Bellinger to load the bases for Morel. That nearly backfired for Texas, as Morel unloaded on a hanging breaking ball and hit it about 400 feet to left.

The only problem was that he pushed it foul as the would-be Grand Slam resulted in a long strike. Robertson managed to dodge that bullet and got the game to the bottom of the 10th still tied, which is where momentum swung. Looking to redefine his career as a reliever, Smyly took the ball for what was a near-impossible task.

Although it wasn't pretty, Smyly did put himself in a position to get out of trouble, but with the bases loaded and two outs the work wasn't done. That is when the stage was set for Heim to redeem himself from the ninth inning and he did that by delivering the walk-off single to give the Rangers a well-earned 4-3 win.

The Cubs had six hits in the game, with Morel leading the way with two. Chicago will now enjoy an off day Friday before turning to Kyle Hendricks on Saturday as they look to even up this series.

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