Walk-off single puts a bow on magical night for Cubs


by - Associate Editor -
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Anthony Rizzo walked the Cubs off in spectacular fashion to put a bow on Chicago's memorable home opener.

CHICAGO -- The ever-faithful Chicago Cubs fans were forced to wait over 108 years to watch their team take the field as World Series champions, and, on Tuesday night, they were forced to wait a little bit longer than expected. But, after all this time, the Wrigley Field bleacher creatures are used to waiting.

With the Cubs' home opener taking place tonight, the game marked the Lovable Losers' first appearance in front of their home crowd as the Lovable Winners. Naturally, plenty of pregame festivities took place. Championship banners were raised, and the World Series trophy was put on full display. However, Mother Nature frowned upon the Chicago Cubs like Lady Luck had done for over a century, as a two-hour rain delay put a damper on the evening. Magical nonetheless, the Cubs taking the field at Wrigley as reigning world champions was surreal, to say the least.

Adding to the allure of the night was the stellar matchup that it presented, with the Cubs taking on the Los Angeles Dodgers in a rematch of last year's thrilling NLCS that saw the Cubs win three straight games after being down 2-1 to advance to the World Series. The first of a three-game series, Tuesday's matchup featured a solid pitching duel of Cubs ace Jon Lester battling young Dodgers standout Alex Wood. Fully evinced by the seven total hits accrued by both teams combined with the starting pitchers on the hill, the 3-2 Cubs victory was a hard-fought defensive battle.

Lester, the 2016 co-NLCS MVP, pitched very well against the Dodgers this past October, and that trend carried over into this game. Pitching a solid six-inning outing, Lester carried forth another trend of his: performing well at home. Last season, Lester was 10-2 at the Friendly Confines, becoming the first Cubs pitcher to accrue at least 10 wins and a sub-2.00 ERA at home since Greg Maddux in his 1992 Cy Young-winning season.

Pitching was indeed the theme of the night early on, as neither team advanced a runner into scoring position until a defensive blunder allowed the Cubs to do so in the bottom of the third. Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig dropped a fly ball hit into foul territory by Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber, who then took advantage of the second chance by drawing a two-out walk. Soon after, Chicago third baseman Kris Bryant collected his fourth RBI of the season on a double to deep left that scored Schwarber. Puig's drop, which was one of two errors for the Dodgers, proved costly, as the one-run margin of victory for the Cubs dictates. Errors were a major factor for both teams, though, with the Cubs suffering from three of them.

In the ensuing inning, the Dodgers' other error produced yet another Cubs run. With runners on first and second and no outs, Woods attempted a risky pickoff that got away from him, and the throwing error resulted in both Chicago runners advancing a base. Later on in the inning, with the bases loaded and one out, Lester came through with the bat by making enough contact to produce an RBI fielder's choice groundout that brought Cubs shortstop Addison Russell home.

Lester's lone hiccup on the rubber occurred in the top half of the sixth, as the Dodgers cut their 2-0 deficit in half, thanks to an RBI double off the bat of Dodgers phenom Corey Seager. The reigning NL Rookie of the Year smacked a one-out two-bagger to right that scored a run after the Dodgers had placed runners on first and second by way of two singles. Lester was able to escape the inning with the Cubs' lead intact, however, and he departed the game having given up only four hits while striking out seven.

In the seventh, it seemed as though Cubs manager Joe Maddon had pulled Lester too soon once reliever Carl Edwards allowed the Dodgers to load the bases with no outs. Technically, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras played a part in that, too, via a catcher's interference call that allowed a hitter to take first. But the Cubs fared much better when Justin Grimm replaced Edwards on the mound thereafter. Grimm forced the two batters whom he faced to hit into a flyout and a 4-6-3 double play, respectively, thereby enabling the Cubs to escape the tight jam unscathed.

Chicago was not so lucky in the eighth, however, as a defensive mistake caused its lead to disappear. Reliever Pedro Strop took the hill for the Cubs and was shaky, giving up a leadoff single and hitting a batter two at-bats later. Next, with veteran Chase Utley pinch-hitting for the Dodgers, a grounder to first by Utley resulted in an out at second that was followed up by an inane decision by Russell, who tagged second, to attempt to convert a 6-3-1 double play. Affected by the slide of the outed runner at second, Russell threw the ball far off of the mark in the direction of first base, thus allowing an L.A. run to score. Interestingly enough, the slide at second was reviewed in an effort to check whether or not it had violated the Utley Rule, and, again, this occurred on a grounder by none other than Chase Utley.

Another error nearly undid the Cubs in the ninth, with the usually sure-handed Kris Bryant misplaying a ground ball that could have ended the inning but instead placed a runner into scoring position for the Dodgers. Fortunately for Bryant, Cubs closer Wade Davis kept calm and struck Dodgers third baseman Logan Forsythe out looking to shift the game to the bottom half of the inning.

The bottom of the ninth saw the Cubs close out their special night in grandiose fashion, with star first baseman Anthony Rizzo capping off the magical evening with a walk-off single. Rizzo, who seems to have an affinity for the limelight, picked an interesting time to garner his first RBI of 2017, as his hit to left off of Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen scored Cubs outfielder Jon Jay from third to provide the Cubs with a memorable 3-2 victory.

Jay led off the inning with a pinch-hit single against Los Angeles reliever Sergio Romo and, after advancing to second on a groundout, was able to take third base by way of a steal that the Dodgers seemed unprepared for. Setting the stage for Rizzo's heroics, Jay, a Cubs newcomer, scored the winning run with ease as Rizzo walked the Cubs off on a cold but electrifying night at Wrigley Field. Adding to the mystique of the Cubs' seemingly scripted run that they have been on over the course of the past year or so, Rizzo happened to be the one hoisting the Commissioner's Trophy upon entering the stadium to start the night's festivities at Wrigley, and he wound up being the one to bring the festivities to a close.

With the 3-2 win, the Cubs moved to 5-2 overall and dropped the Dodgers to 4-4. Davis (1-0) earned his first win as a Cub, while Romo (0-1) was credited with the loss. The Cubs amassed six hits in the game, one of which will go down as one of the most special hits in franchise history. The 2017 MLB slate is still very young, but Rizzo's walk-off on a night that was all about the Chicago Cubs may very well stand the test of time in being the most meaningful hit of the entire season.





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