March 27, 2014
Cubs 4 – White Sox 3
The Cubs completed their spring training season on several high notes. We knew from the frequent sell-outs at new Cubs Park that attendance was strong this season. Today, we learned that the Cubs averaged 14,254 fans per home game for a total spring attendance of over 213,000. This staggering attendance total set an all-time major league record for spring training. The Cubs did not disappoint their fans, providing a solid all-around performance. Here are a few highlights:
Cubs’ starting pitcher Travis Wood threw four scoreless innings on two hits and he struck out five batters. Wood looked sharp throughout his stint which came as a breath of fresh air for those fans who watched Chris Rusin struggle the previous day. The Cubs are relying on Wood to help anchor their starting rotation this season and today’s performance proved an encouraging sign. Assisting Wood, the Cubs’ offense scored a run in the first inning when Emilio Bonifacio stroked a lead-off single, stole second, advanced to third on a ground out, and scored on an Anthony Rizzo RBI ground out. As it turns out, the Cubs held the lead throughout the remainder of the contest.
Ryan Sweeney led off the second inning with a solo home run to double the Cubs’ lead 2-0. In the fourth inning, the Cubs put together a rally after the first two batters had been retired. In the top of the inning, White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers hit an apparent homerun into the left field seats, but Cubs’ outfielder Justin Ruggiano refused to cede the run. Ruggiano raced to the wall and made a leaping catch over the yellow stripe that designates home runs to record the out. Welington Castillo recorded his second single of the game and he came all the way around to score on a Ruggiano double. The Cubs were cruising with a 3-0 lead. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Mike Olt continued his hot hitting with a base hit up the middle and Sweeney moved him to third base with another single into right field. After Luis Valbuena drew a walk to load the bases, all eyes fell on Cubs’ infielder Darwin Barney. After a miserable offensive season in 2013, Barney has looked much better this spring. Today was no exception as Barney drilled a two-out bases loaded single to put the Cubs ahead by a margin of 4-0.
The score remained 4-0 until the White Sox scored an unearned run in the top of the eighth inning. Cubs’ prospect Matt Szczur made a spectacular diving catch in right field to end the Sox rally. Cubs’ new reliever Wesley Wright came in to close out the ninth inning for the Cubs and protect the team’s 4-1 lead. After inducing an out on his first pitch, Wright gave up back to back (likely windblown) solo home runs to Alejandro De Aza and Adam Dunn. Following this unfortunate series of events, Cubs’ manager Rick Renteria wasted no time making a pitching change. Cubs’ newly acquired secret weapon Neil Ramirez came into the game and promptly struck out the final two clearly overmatched White Sox hitters to preserve the win and earn a save. Ramirez came to the Cubs as part of the Matt Garza sweepstakes last summer and he has looked very impressive in his recent relief appearances. As White Sox announcer Ken “Hawk” Harrelson would say, the Cubs simply had the will to win today (“TWTW”).
As the Cubs head to Pittsburgh to begin the regular season following a two-game exhibition against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the first spring training at new Cubs Park is officially in the books. The glowing reviews of the new ballpark and the training facilities are well deserved. The Cubs have constructed a first-class complex commonly referred to by Arizonans as “the jewel of the Cactus League.” I will provide a more in depth look at the Cubs’ new spring training facility along with pictures and video in the coming days. One thing is certain though, if the Cubs put as much thought and care into the parent facility as they have their spring training complex, the fans will have many more years to enjoy the charm of Wrigley Field with many of the added comforts associated with modern baseball facilities.