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Northside Archives: The Opening Day That Wasn't

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Opening Day left a lot to be desired from the Cubs. There was a solid outing from Dempster, contrasted with horrendous baserunning and a penchant for swinging at every pitch thrown to our hitters – at least until Byrd watched the last one sail past him to end the game. But let’s move on, there will be a lot of twists and turns in the next 161 games, let’s hope this represents one of the lowest points. It could’ve been a LOT worse! It could’ve included Carlos Zambrano…

April 4, 2005
Making his first Opening Day start for the Cubs, Carlos Zambrano is staked to an early 7-0 lead after the top of the 2nd in Arizona. The start of an Opening Day tradition for Big Z, he managed to get it to a 9-2 game with a runner on and two outs in the bottom of the 5th. Needing just one out to qualify for his first Opening Day win, Zambrano surrendered a double and then walked the next two batters (the second walk with the bases loaded). Dusty Baker had seen enough, and yanked Zambrano before he qualified for the win. For his part, Zambrano blamed home plate umpire Dale Scott who promptly ejected him.

The Cubs went on to win that game 16-6 with Glendon Rusch among others cleaning up Zambrano’s mess.

April 3, 2006
In Cincinnati, the Cubs stake Zambrano to a 5-0 lead before he throws a single pitch. By the time the bottom of the 5th rolled around, Zambrano had squandered nearly all of that lead. Adam Dunn took care of the rest with a solo homer to lead off the fifth. With two outs Austin Kearns belted a double that knocked Zambrano out of the game. Fewer histrionics this time, Zambrano had again squandered a massive lead and failed to even pitch five innings. In fact, Aaron Harang who the Cubs tagged for those early runs managed to stay in the game longer than Carlos. He started the sixth and the Cubs made him pay brutalizing the Reds for seven runs in that inning to turn it into a blowout.

The Cubs went on to win that game 16-7 with Will Ohman among others cleaning up Zambrano’s mess.

April 2, 2007
Again in Cincy to face the Reds, Zambrano is now the one giving up early runs. This game was uneventful in how quickly it was over. Harang, a repeat as the Reds Opening Day starter, easily handled the revamped Cubs lineup allowing only a single unearned run over 7 innings. Big Z had trouble finding the zone and missing bats; but had no trouble giving up runs. Ironically, he made it out of the fifth in this game, pitching 5 innings and surrendering 5 runs on 5 BBs and 6 hits.

The Cubs went on to lose that game 1-5 with no one cleaning up Zambrano’s mess.

March 31, 2008
The Cubs are finally afforded the opportunity to play at home on Opening Day, and new acquisition Kosuke Fukudome wastes no time in making his presence felt. Zambrano, facing off against the Brewers and Ben Sheets, pitched his best Opening Day game ever. He turned over a scoreless tie to Carlos Marmol with two outs in the top of the 7th. Wood took over for Marmol in the ninth and coughed up 3 runs deflating Wrigley Field. But with two on and none out in the bottom of the ninth Kosuke hit the first of 37 home runs in a Cubs uniform. 37!

The Cubs went on to lose that game 3-4 in 10 innings with no Zambrano mess.

April 6, 2009
Zambrano and the Cubs make a trip to Houston as the season opens; Carlos’ last appearance against the Astros had ended as a no-hitter in Milwaukee. Building off of his 2008 Opening Day success, Zambrano out-dueled Roy Oswalt throwing six-plus innings and surrendering a single run. The bullpen hangs on and earns Big Z’s only Opening Day win (likely the only one of his career).

The Cubs went on to win that game 4-2 with Zambrano finally triumphant.

April 5, 2010
If Houston and the Astros remind Zambrano of the good times, Atlanta and the Braves must give him nightmares. Not only would Zambrano’s final appearance as a Cub, short retirement, and final tantrum (as a Cub anyway) come one year later in Atlanta; but the Braves played host to the biggest Opening Day smackdown that Carlos ever received – and that’s saying something. Rookie Jason Heyward (whose MLB licensed apparel was not even available for purchase until after Zambrano had been pulled from this game – for which we can thank crazy MLB licensing rules) made his presence felt in his first MLB at-bat. Zambrano, again staked to a first inning 3-0 lead, gave up 6 in the first capped off by a 3-run bomb from Heyward. After he surrendered two more in the second, Piniella replaced him with Sean Marshall. Amazingly, Zambrano ended the day with the second worst ERA on the staff (54.00) thanks to Jeff Samardzija and the six runs, four earned that he surrendered in just 1/3 of an inning for an ERA of 108.00 – yuck.

The Cubs went on to lose that game 5-16 with Samardzija gleefully rolling around in Zambrano’s mess.

Depressed yet? Dempster turned in a good performance yesterday – far superior to his start in Pittsburgh to open last season. And for all those horrible memories above, the Cubs still made the playoffs in 2007 & 2008. Not that this year’s team will be playing into October – but there are 161 other opportunities starting tomorrow, and none of them will start with Zambrano on the mound for the Cubs. That fact and a performance like Dempster’s is reason enough for optimism.

(Carlos Zambrano can be seen for the first time as a Miami Marlin on Sunday in Cincinnati facing Bronson Arroyo and the Reds!)

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