What a night for St. Louis sports.
With veteran ace Adam Wainwright on the mound Sunday night, the St. Louis Cardinals kicked off the 2015 MLB season against their heated rivals from the Windy City, the Chicago Cubs, who had veteran Jon Lester on the mound.
It was the first Cardinals/Cubs Opening Night game at Wrigley Field since 1991, and before the game started, tributes to the late Oscar Taveras and the late Ernie Banks were shown.
In the first inning, Lester was able to get out Matt Carpenter, but newcomer Jason Heyward was able to hit a double in his debut at-bat with the Cardinals. Matt Holliday followed that with a base hit that was bobbled in right field by Jorge Soler, giving the Cardinals a 1-0 lead early on.
Wainwright, coming off a 20-win 2014 season, and elbow improvements over the offseason, had a strong first inning of his own, bouncing back from a lead-off double from Dexter Fowler to get Soler, Anthony Rizzo, and Starlin Castro out to end the inning with St. Louis still leading 1-0.
After base hits by Kolten Wong and Jon Jay, Carpenter was able to get a single of his own with two outs, scoring Wong and increasing the Cardinals lead to 2-0.
The Cardinals’ bats continued to rack up Lester’s pitch count early, as the former Red Sox ace had over 50 pitches only three innings in. And Wainwright continued to shut down the Cubs’ lineup, who went through a revamp of their own during the off-season. As the game progressed, both pitchers continued to do well, with Lester being able to escape early inning jams, and Wainwright using his slick curveball to stun batters at the plate.
Through five innings, the Cardinals were leading the Cubs 3-0, and yet…St. Louis had already beaten Chicago in the Windy City.
Because at the United Center, the St. Louis Blues were taking on the Chicago Blackhawks, with the chance for the Blues to move into first in the division at stake.
Early in the first period, a costly turnover by TJ Oshie led to a Chicago Blackhawks goal by Kris Versteeg past Blues goalie Jake Allen. Throughout the game, Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford saved 31 shots to keep Chicago in the game. But St. Louis kept fighting, and did not let up. David Backes was able to score a power-play-goal at the 6:07 mark in the second period, and Olli Jokinen scored his first goal as a Blues player in the same period to give the Blues the 2-1 lead.
A lead they never let go of.
Strong, physical defense and great control of the game tempo helped propel the Blues (49-23-7) over one of their biggest rivals, winning in Chicago for the first time since February 3rd, 2010. And, as stated before, the victory put them in first place in the Central Division, ahead of both the Blackhawks and Predators, as the three-way race intensifies as the season winds down.
Back at Wrigley Field, Chicago continued to get runners into scoring position, but were unable to do anything with them. At the end of seven innings, Wainwright and Lester’s night were done, with the former out-dueling the latter, the Cardinals were up 3-0, and the Cubs were 0-13 with RISP.
Carlos Martinez, who starts Saturday, entered in relief during the bottom of the seventh and pitched a scoreless half inning.
In the top of the eighth, Jay dropped a hit into right field, ending up at second, and Mark Reynolds made a pinch-hit appearance for Martinez. Reynolds, another free agent acquisition this off-season, was unable to advance or score Jay from second base.
But the Cardinals’ bullpen did their job, continuing Wainwright’s job of shutting down the Cubs.
Still leading 3-0 in the bottom of the ninth, Trevor Rosenthal entered the game in attempt to get the save, which is exactly what he did. No drama, just three straight outs on three straight strikeouts, and the St. Louis Cardinals start off their 2015 season on a positive note, beating their rival Cubs 3-0.
Wainwright got the win, going six innings, allowing five hits, striking out six, but allowing no runs and walking no batters.
Jason Heyward made his presence felt, going 3-4 with two doubles and a single, as well as scoring a run, and overall, the Cardinals put the pressure on the pitcher that the Cubs have invested arguably the most money into, out-hitting the Cubs 10-5. The Cubs also committed two errors in the field, while the Cardinals committed none.
Lance Lynn gets the nod on the mound Tuesday for the Cardinals, and as for the Blues, their next game is Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets.
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)