It didn’t take long for the Cubs and Brewers to bring a familiar sense of rivalry heat to the otherwise strange vibe of pandemic-protocol baseball in a game the Brewers eventually won 8-3 on Saturday afternoon.
Bringing the heat
Less than 24 hours after Anthony Rizzo was hit on the hand by a pitch early in Friday’s opener, more tight pitching by Saturday’s Brewer starter, Corbin Burnes, eventually built enough ire in Willson Contreras that play was delayed at the end of the third inning as both sides engaged in a safe-distancing, bench-“clearing” standoff.
Contreras, who won a stare-down with Burnes in the first inning by responding to a 98-mph brushback with an RBI single, was not happy with more inside work in the third, and jawed vehemently with the pitcher after striking out to end the inning.
That escalated the chirping in both dugouts as Javy Báez jumped the dugout rail, and multiple Brewers also stepped out of their dugout — all showing enough restraint to hold their ground and follow strictly disciplined rules about avoiding contact in such incidents.
It was the second example of restraint by Báez, who took a step in front of the plate and stared down Burnes after getting hit on the upper arm by a 96-mph pitch in the first, before slowly heading to first — two batters before Contreras.
“I think this is gonna be part of this season,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said during an in-game interview after his lengthy conversation with umps delayed the start of the fourth inning.
“Both dugouts can hear each other, and umpires can hear everything,” he added. “There’s talking that goes on in the game. You never hear it with all the fans here. It’s part of the game. It’s competitiveness. That’s all it is.”
“I don’t know if Major League Baseball saw it coming, but I think if you’re in the dugout in this environment you’re going to expect some of that,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “When you can hear everything that everybody says, that’s going to spark some intensity.”
The Cubs turned up the sound system when Contreras was hit by a Devin Williams pitch in the seventh, drowning out any “talk” as Contreras slowly headed to first while stealing glances at the mound.
The day after Kyle Hendricks cruised through the season opener with a three-hit shutout, Yu Darvish — the presumptive Opening Day starter when spring training was halted in March — needed 73 pitches to get through four long innings full of deep counts and traffic.
He limited the damage until the fourth, when a hit batter, single and Ben Gamel triple pushed across two more for the Brewers — who bailed him out of surrendering another run when somebody apparently missed a sign, Orlando Arcia bunting and Gamel held at third with one out.
Of note, if not solace: Darvish didn’t walk a batter. He has given up just seven walks in 14 starts since last year’s All-Star break.
Maybe the Cubs could have used another week or two of summer training camp to work on fundamentals?
A botched rundown after the Cubs had Lorenzo Cain hung out between second and third on Gamel’s grounder to short cost a run in the second when the Cubs left first base abandoned — allowing Gamel to scurry back to first just when it looked like the Cubs might have both runners occupying second.
Eric Sogard’s two-out single eventually drove home Cain from second.
On the other hand, the Brewers’ ability to execute a rundown with runners at second and third and one out in the bottom of the fourth shut down a Cubs scoring chance. Victor Caratini was caught in no-man’s land off third when Ian Happ grounded sharply to third and was out on one throw. Three pitches later, the Brewers were out of the inning.
Mighty pen questions
After Darvish’s early exit, manager David Ross got his first look at an 11-man bullpen full of question marks.
The answers weren’t great — albeit, none of the relievers used Saturday included the closer or primary setup pitchers.
Dillon Maples was the only one among the five who recorded a 1-2-3 inning (ninth), and left-hander Rex Brothers was the only other one with a scoreless inning (eighth)
Duane Underwood Jr. (solo homer), Brad Wieck (two-run homer) and James Norwood (three consecutive hits, two runs) gave up five runs on five hits and a walk in their combined three innings.