The Cubs may have tempted fate at Wrigley Field this year by replacing the old brick wall behind home plate, adding advertisements to the center-field scoreboard, moving the flag bearing left fielder Billy Williams' retired number to the right-field pole and issuing red jackets to the ushers.
Everything seemed out of place during a bone-chilling home opener Monday, including the unfamiliar sight of Greg Maddux getting his hat handed to him in a 13-2 loss to Pittsburgh.
Maddux characteristically declined to blame the frigid, windy conditions, his mechanics or the emotion of the moment for his bad-hair day at Wrigley.
"A perfect day to pitch," he said. "I didn't pitch good. I didn't locate well. I didn't throw the ball over the plate, and when I did, they hit it."
Maddux gave up six runs, five of them earned, on eight hits with five walks in 3 2/3 innings. His record dropped to 0-2, and his ERA rose to 7.45. The much-hyped comeback, which began with a standing ovation when he was introduced while warming up in the bullpen, quickly evolved into a nightmare. The sellout crowd of 40,483 began booing when Maddux continued to struggle in the third inning after giving up five runs in the second.
The most puzzling concern may be his startling control problems.
A pitcher renowned for painting the corners, Maddux already has walked seven batters and hit three in 9 2/3 innings. He issued only 33 walks and hit eight men in 218 1/3 innings last year with Atlanta. Of his 77 pitches Monday, only 39 went for strikes. In his first start last week in Cincinnati, Maddux threw 44 strikes in 77 pitches.
Cubs manager Dusty Baker noted that every pitcher is capable of struggling, "even the great Greg Maddux."
"He's human," Baker said. "There are some guys around, some high-quality pitchers starting the season 0-2. Look around. You've got Mike Mussina, Russ Ortiz. ... You want everyone to get off to a good start, but I'm not worried about Greg. He'll figure it out, and he'll be the Maddux we expect and know."
Maddux's lost-in-translation moment occurred in the second inning, when everything that could go wrong did. He loaded the bases on two singles and a walk to pitcher Kris Benson, then gave up a sacrifice fly to Tike Redman.
Jack Wilson followed with a run-scoring double, and Maddux fell behind Jason Kendall 2-0 before Kendall poked a two-run single through the middle on a 2-1 pitch. Kendall then tried to steal second, and when catcher Paul Bako's throw caromed off his leg and rolled into short left field, Kendall never stopped running, barely beating Alex Gonzalez's throw to the plate and eluding Bako's tag to cap a five-run inning.
The Pirates gave the Cubs their two runs in the bottom of the inning thanks to three errors, including two by Wilson at short. But it didn't matter. The Cubs were goners before most fans turned into human Popsicles.
The loudest noise the rest of the afternoon was a mock cheer in the top of the eighth when Kent Mercker threw a first-pitch strike after walking pitcher Brian Meadows with the bases loaded to force in a run. Rookie Andy Pratt, the early front-runner to replace Antonio Alfonseca as the primary target of Wrigley Field boo birds, had loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batter.
After pounding the Braves on Sunday, the Cubs' hitters took another day off Monday, collecting only three hits. Sammy Sosa's infield single in the first was the only hit off Benson in six innings. The Cubs are hitting .227 after seven games, and .213 if you take away Mark Grudzielanek's .467 average.
"We hit some balls a ton," said Baker, referring to blasts by Sosa and Todd Hollandsworth that didn't leave the park because of the 16-m.p.h. wind. "Those balls would be out on Waveland Avenue. It just wasn't today. There's no explanation sometimes. We just got our butt beat."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times