Home World Chicago Cubs beat Los Angeles Dodgers 9-7 at Wrigley Field

Chicago Cubs beat Los Angeles Dodgers 9-7 at Wrigley Field

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A series in early April at Wrigley Field between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers was not going to lead to any grandiose statements from either team.

The Dodgers will still leave town Sunday night as the prohibitive favorites to win the World Series, while the Cubs will remain a team harboring legitimate hopes of making the postseason.

But the addition of Shohei Ohtani to an already-potent Dodgers lineup made this a must-see matchup for Cubs fans on a chilly but sun-splashed afternoon, almost as anticipated as opening day or the turning of the ivy.

Around 125 credentialed media members were on hand, befitting a playoff game at Wrigley, with dozens of Japanese journalists on hand to chronicle Ohtani’s every movement. It was reminiscent of the 2019 National League wild-card game, the last time playoff baseball was held at Wrigley with fans allowed.

The Cubs delivered in the series opener with a 9-7 victory before a crowd of 34,981, winning their fifth straight after an 0-2 start.

But Ohtani created the kind of drama that helped make him baseball’s first $700 million player, smoking a two-run home run and a double. When Julian Merryweather induced Ohtani to fly out to center to end the eighth with a man on second and a two-run lead, the crowd let out a collective sigh of relief.

So did Merryweather.

“Whenever he takes a big swing you kind of have to hold your breath,” Merryweather said. “Especially when it’s in the air. But a day game at Wrigley, you’ve got to look at the flags, and today was a good day for the Cubs, for sure.”

Maybe Counsell did, too, though he knew better than to show it. The Dodgers threatened in the ninth off closer Adbert Alzolay, but after Counsell’s successful replay challenge negated a bases-loaded situation, first baseman Michael Busch made a diving catch of James Outman’s line drive to end it.

Photos: Chicago Cubs beat Los Angeles Dodgers 9-7 at Wrigley Field

“Nico (Hoerner) was telling me at the mound visit we were just trying to keep everything from getting to the outfield,” Busch said. “So if we had to dive, we were doing to dive. Two pitches later, I had to dive. it was funny.”

The Cubs are 4-0 on their opening homestand and have scored nine or more runs in four of their last five games, even playing in brutal weather. Apparently they’re mudders.

“The conditions certainly make it all the more impressive, really,” Counsell said. “It’s a really good start offensively for us.”

After striking out the side in the first with a 2-0 lead, Dodgers starter Bobby Miller, an Elk Grove native who hails from McHenry West High, ran into trouble in the second and failed to get out of the inning. Dansby Swanson homered, Nick Madrigal singled home a run and Seiya Suzuki smacked a two-run, opposite-field double on the ninth pitch of his at-bat, knocking Miller out of the game.

Suzuki has two homers and 11 RBIs in his last five games, picking up where he left off last season. Busch, acquired from the Dodgers over the offseason, added a solo home run in the third off Dinelson Lamet to make it 6-2.

Kyle Hendricks, aided by sterling defensive plays from Madrigal and Hoerner and a stiff 15-mph wind blowing in from left, pitched well into the fifth before facing “MVP3” — former Most Valuable Player award winners Mookie Betts, Ohtani and Freddie Freeman — for the third time. Ohtani’s two-run home run to the left of the right-field foul pole, a walk to Freeman and Will Smith’s RBI double chased Hendricks and made it a 6-5 game.

“One of the best hitters in the game, if not ever,” Hendricks said of Ohtani. “Just a really fun challenge there. Good pitch his first at-bat he put a really good swing on (and doubled). Made some good pitches the second at-bat and made a bad pitch he capitalized on the third at-bat. That’s what the great hitters do.”

The Dodgers became the sixth team in history to score five or more runs in their first 10 games and are three games shy of tying the 1932 New York Yankees for the record to start a season. Ian Happ’s two-run triple that eluded right fielder Teoscar Hernandez and rolled to the wall gave the Cubs some breathing room in a three-run sixth. Against the Dodgers, every insurance run matters.

Every game is the same, or so the players always say. But some games just seem to matter more than others, and this was one of those. When Hoerner pumped his fist and shouted after making a diving play to rob Gavin Lux of a two-run hit and end the fourth inning, it was obvious the Rockies had left the building. The big boys were in town.

“Any time you play against a team like this and you get some sun at Wrigley, it was a great atmosphere today for sure,” Counsell said. “We know this is a tough team to beat. That’s a huge play — takes two runs off the board. It was a play worth showing emotion for.”

Hendricks also mentioned the sun being out, as if the return of the star the planet revolves around was instrumental in the win.

Maybe the Cubs need to go back to playing more day games? Whatever works.

“Once Wrigley gets going with a full house, it turns into that playoff atmosphere against good teams,” Merryweather said. “These are meaningful games, and even though it’s early in the season, they mean as much as those games down the stretch. Being able to pull out these close games as a team and feel that energy is huge for us this early.”

The Cubs face Yoshinobu Yamamoto on Saturday before Cubs left-hander Shota Imanaga goes up against Ohtani & Co. in Sunday’s finale. It might be just another weekend in April, but the Japanese stars know this series means a lot more back home.

“It all started with all the other Japanese players that started here before us,” Suzuki said through his interpreter. “They made the transition for us to be able to come over here as well. So we respect that and try to show a lot of appreciation to them. We’re trying to make that journey continue and make it easier for guys in Japan to come over here sometime.

“I think we’re just trying to cherish every moment when we’re here.”



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