The Chicago Cubs did something Tuesday night that they haven’t accomplished in over 20 years when they took the field against the Los Angeles Angels: won their second straight game to open up the season.
Winning two in a row at the start of the year isn’t a frequent occurrence for the team, as they haven’t begun a season 2-0 since they won their first four games of the 1995 campaign.
During the intervening years, the Cubs have won plenty of openers, but they’ve also had plenty of bad starts too. Their worst start occurred in 1997, when they lost their first 14 games in a row to set a new team record for futility.
When they took on the Angels Tuesday, they had plenty of momentum to build on. Behind Jake Arrieta, the Cubs won 9-0 on Monday night, as Miguel Montero and Matt Szczur each drove in three runs.
In Tuesday’s game, they had another star pitcher on the hill: Jon Lester.
Last season, Lester brought to the Chicago Cubs an impressive resume that included the two World Series rings he won with the Boston Red Sox in 2007 and 2013.
Now he is trying to help lead the team with baseball’s longest championship drought to its first pennant since 1945.
Last season, Jon Lester brought to the Chicago Cubs an impressive resume that included the two World Series rings he won with the Boston Red Sox in 2007 and 2013.
“I don’t like to compare other situations and other rosters and all that stuff,” Lester said. “But I like our talent and our lineup because it’s deep. So if you want to take one similarity from it, I guess it’s that our lineup makes pitchers work and has good, quality at-bats.”
Lester (1-0) threw 93 pitches, allowing a run and four hits. The three-time All-Star, who broke Ken Holtzman’s 1970 franchise record for strikeouts by a left-hander with 207 last season, fanned four and walked none in his 12th career start against the Angels.
Lester is in the second season of a $155 million, six-year contract. Last year, his first in the National League, he was 11-12 with a 3.34 ERA in 32 starts.
“Physically and mentally, I’m light years ahead of where I was last year at this point,” Lester said. “Obviously, I’m in a better place coming into the season because there’s no limitations, as far as pitch counts.
“Last year was just so different,” he added. “There was a lot of hype involved around myself and expectations for myself. So you try to go out there the first start and try to live up to those expectations all at once, as opposed to just letting the season play out.”
Angels starter Andrew Heaney (0-1) gave up four runs and seven hits over six innings with seven strikeouts and no walks.
Heaney retired the side in order on 14 pitches in the first, but left the mound with a bloody nose after throwing his first pitch of the second inning to Rizzo. Heaney got checked out in the dugout by trainer Adam Nevala, then was allowed to take a few warmups before continuing with gauze in his left nostril.
“I just got a little bit of a bloody nose, threw a pitch and it spewed down my shirt,” Heaney said. “Then I got it on my other sleeve and down my arm, so I figured I should probably say something.”
Szczur, who hit a three-run double in the ninth inning of the Cubs’ season-opening 9-0 win Monday night after entering the game as a defensive replacement, drove Heaney’s first pitch of the third over the double-decker bullpen in left to ignite a four-run rally.
Another run came in on a fielder’s choice grounder by Jason Heyward, and Rizzo drove in two more with his homer to center field. Rizzo is coming off back-to-back seasons with 30 or more home runs — the first left-handed hitter in franchise history to record multiple 30-homer campaigns.
Fowler made it 6-1 in the seventh, hitting a 3-0 pitch from Mike Morin for a two-run shot to right, his first homer in 40 career at-bats at Angel Stadium.
This is the first time the Cubs have started a season 2-0 since 1995. They have won their last 11 regular-season road games.
Szczur made his first start of the season in left field — one day after his alma mater, Villanova, won the NCAA men’s basketball championship on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Kris Jenkins.
“Villanova won the national championship, so I thought he was a good bet today,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I just thought it was like absolutely poetic justice, wasn’t it? They won, then he comes up and gets that hit — pretty good night for the ‘Cats.”
Angels: RHP Jered Weaver, whose streak of six consecutive opening day starts ended on Monday night because of nerve problems in his neck and shoulder, threw about 60 pitches during a four-inning simulated game.
Cubs: RHP John Lackey makes his debut with Chicago on Thursday night against Arizona RHP Rubby De La Rosa in the opener of a four-game series at Chase Field.
Angels: LHP Hector Santiago opposes LHP Derek Holland in the opener of a four-game set with the Texas Rangers at the Big A.