Cubs drop opener after 'a tough 24 hours'

July 31st, 2021

WASHINGTON -- A very different Cubs lineup took the field Friday night at Nationals Park, just hours after the Trade Deadline ended. For the first time since the 2015 season, Chicago took the field without Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez and Kris Bryant in the fold.

It was an emotional day for everyone -- including manager David Ross, who couldn’t help but get choked up prior to the 4-3 loss in the series opener against the Nationals.

“Emotional is the first word that comes to mind,” said Ross. “Sad, difficult, a lot of negative words that I usually don't like to use on these Zooms. ... [Rizzo, Báez and Bryant] changed expectations about this organization. They changed the caliber of play expected. They changed expectations for a fan base that's passionate in a place it's amazing to play. They made it a place, along with ownership and front office, that free agents want to come. Those guys, they changed my life.”

While discussing the Cubs’ moves, Ross took off his metaphorical manager hat and allowed himself to get personal, but only for a moment, noting that trading Rizzo, Báez and Bryant also meant he was losing his friends.

The hat went right back on when the skipper started talking about Friday’s matchup, shifting into game mode. Though, with Patrick Wisdom at first, Matt Duffy at third and Sergio Alcántara at shortstop, it was hard to ignore just how different this game felt -- and looked.

“It's been a tough 24 hours, I think, for everybody,” reiterated Ross after the game. “So, it definitely felt like a scramble. You're definitely shaking hands, meeting new people, new faces and trying to learn some guys and what they do well to put them into situations to succeed. All in all, with the adversity for the last few days and how these guys came in and performed tonight, I was happy at the end of the day. Well, as happy as you can be when losing a baseball game.”

One thing remained clear -- this team hasn’t given up. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Willson Contreras started an eighth-inning rally with a double, and both he and Rafael Ortega scored on Wisdom's single -- bringing Chicago within one run of the Nats, though it wasn’t enough to notch a win.

That grit and fighting spirit encouraged starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, who made his first start since returning from the IL on Friday. As he returned, he was very emotional saying goodbye to “his family,” but immediately ushered in this new group of teammates.

“We have a responsibility to show up and perform every day still with the intent to win every single game,” said Arrieta. “We play to show these new guys how it's done, how to operate, how to build a winning culture. It's time for the next wave of guys to establish that.

"It's pretty obvious that [the new guys] know how to win. They have good stuff, they know how to compete, and they've seen what we've done as a team in the past. I know that they want to do the same things we were able to do. The goal is to win. The goal is to help these young guys grow into winning players and establish the winning mentality and create the next group of Chicago greats.”

The Cubs’ skipper saw flashes of positivity from his team, which is still trying to adjust to playing without some of its “big horses."

Ross, Arrieta and the rest of this club know how difficult it will be to see their friends and former teammates move on to other clubs. However, they all are hopeful that they might see them in a Cubs uniform again. And even if not, they know just how special their time in a Cubs uniform was.

“Hugging Rizzo, KB and Javy goodbye just reminds you of how special this uniform is to wear,” said Arrieta. “Whether you win [a World Series] in this uniform or you're just part of the organization for a brief period of time, this organization is different. I think that that's pretty obvious to even the new guys that are here today. And if they don't know it yet, they'll soon understand just how important the Cubs uniform is to wear and the legacy that this group has left on the city of Chicago. I think that will be remembered forever, so it is special for all of us.”