Anthony Rizzo’s walk-off hit makes Cubs winners on celebratory night
While his Chicago Cubs teammates soaked in the glory of home-opener ceremonies, highlighted by the raising of the 2016 World Series banner, Jon Lester treated his assignment Monday night with the calmness of any other start. That poise paid off in the sixth, when Lester was in jeopardy of losing the lead after many of the 41,166 fans who stuck around through a 36 windchill for the banner raising had departed.
Lester induced Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner to hit a fly to center field that was too shallow for Logan Forsythe to attempt to score from third.
And never was the synergy between catcher Willson Contreras and Lester so timely as when Contreras broke quickly to field a slow roller back to the mound and retire Scott Van Slyke to thwart the rally.
Although the Dodgers did wind up tying the score in the eighth on Addison Russell’s throwing error on an attempted double play, the Cubs capped the party with Anthony Rizzo’s walk-off single in the ninth that scored Jon Jay for a 3-2 victory at Wrigley Field.
Rain delayed the start by 1 hour, 56 minutes. That also delayed the highly anticipated festivities that included Cubs Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams raising the 1907 and 1908 World Series flags and the 2016 National League championship banner.
Cubs players walked under the bleachers in right-center to participate in the raising of the 2016 World Series banner, then returned to the field with the Commissioner’s Trophy that first baseman Rizzo passed to Chairman Tom Ricketts.
Lester, who limited opponents to a .173 batting average with runners in scoring position last season, finished with seven strikeouts in six innings before passing his duties to right-hander Carl Edwards Jr.
Justin Grimm came through with clutch pitching in the seventh after Edwards’ control deserted him.
Grimm induced Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson to hit a fly to shallow right, and pinch hitter Andrew Toles grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded.
For the most part, the elements did not affect the Cubs defense, a staple of their 2016 success. Contreras threw out Franklin Gutierrez on a steal attempt to complete a double play in the second. Javier Baez made a diving stop to retire Corey Seager in the fourth.
Jason Heyward, who is playing center field more frequently as manager Joe Maddon opts to start Ben Zobrist in right and Baez at second, coped with a twisting wind to catch a deep drive by Turner near the warning track in the fourth.
Left fielder Kyle Schwarber showed no signs of the left knee surgery that wiped him out for nearly the entire 2016 season by making a running catch to snare a drive by Yasmani Grandal to end the fifth.
Lester survived with narrow run support. Kris Bryant extended his hitting streak to four games by pulling a pitch down the left-field line to score Schwarber from first in the third inning.
Lester, who became the first Cubs starting pitcher to bat ninth this season, grounded into a fielder’s choice with the bases loaded to score Russell for a 2-0 lead.