Cubs put on a show on 'Opening Day 2.0'

June 11th, 2021

CHICAGO -- This was not just another ballgame at Wrigley Field. This was a celebration that quickly turned into a party. This was the Cubs and Cardinals, and a packed house for the first time in two years.

And it was a Friday afternoon that ended with a dizzy crowd belting out in song, following a wild 8-5 victory at the Friendly Confines. There was a curtain call for after the at-bat of the season. put on a show around the bases. Yadier Molina got his boos.

"This is sort of symbolic of the opening of the city," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said earlier in the day. "It's probably what it should be for the city of Chicago, that Cardinals-Cubs kind of opens the city back up."

Friday marked the first full-capacity crowd of the season for the Cubs, who deemed the day "Opening Day 2.0" and decorated the old ballpark with bunting. Behind home plate, "Welcome home" was painted into the grass.

Hall of Famers Andre Dawson, Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith and Billy Williams were part of the pregame ceremony. New Bears draft pick, quarterback Justin Fields, got a rousing ovation when shown on the videoboard. Bill Murray fired up the crowd and sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" for the seventh inning stretch.

“You know what the nice thing was? Seeing Hall of Famers out,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “We missed them in Spring Training. And all the buzz with the fans there. Bill Murray. The whole thing just felt like Opening Day. It really felt energetic.”

Oh, and the Cubs treated the crowd to arguably the game of the year for the National League Central leaders.

There was no moment bigger than in the sixth inning, when Rizzo locked horns for 14 pitches with Cardinals righty Daniel Ponce de Leon. The fan favorite gave away 10 souvenirs in the battle via foul balls. With each one, the decibel level in the ballpark rose with the mixture of disbelief, amusement and awe of the moment at hand.

Rizzo felt that noise growing behind him, too.

“It almost in a way helped me calm down and relax and just stay in the moment,” Rizzo said. “I just kept saying to myself, after I fouled off pitches, ‘Stay locked in, stay locked in.’ And, ‘Calm down.’”

And then Rizzo sent the crowd into a frenzy with a game-tying homer to right.

“It was a really good moment,” Rizzo said.

“That will definitely be one that will stick with me,” Ross added. “I won't lose that moment. That was special.”

Rizzo's blast, which pulled the game into a 5-5 deadlock, marked the longest plate appearance by a Cubs player to end in a homer in the pitch tracking era (since 1988). As the upper tiers of Wrigley Field quaked, Rizzo headed up the dugout steps and raised his arms in celebration.

“Give them some credit,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “Guy had a 100-pitch at-bat, and he hit a home run."

Pederson, one of the Cubs' new faces this season, spoke earlier this week of how he knew the stadium would be "rockin'" this weekend. He did his part in turning up the volume, too.

In the fourth, Pederson launched a solo homer off Johan Oviedo to begin Chicago’s comeback. After the ball dropped into the right-field basket – where a fan wearing a “W” shirt retrieved it and pounded his chest – Pederson stutter-stepped around third and pointed skyward as he crossed the plate.

Then in the seventh, Pederson ripped a 98-mph inside fastball from Génesis Cabrera off the bricks and ivy in right for a two-run, go-ahead double.

“He's just feeling it right now,” Ross said. “He's got a good way about him. I think he's affected this lineup, this team, in a really positive way on a lot of levels.”

There was no denying the impact the crowd had on the day, either.

As Hoyer spoke before the game, he referenced the strange environment of 2020. He and a few other front-office members would watch games from the vacated stands, while artificial crowd noise was pumped through the Wrigley sound system.

“After playing 30 games like that, it almost became normal,” Hoyer said. “I remember at one point Theo [Epstein] said to me, ‘We can’t normalize this. This is bizarre.’”

That is why Friday felt so momentous.

“That was a nice 'W,’” Ross said. “Clearly, those fans helped us win that game.”