Cubs trip Cardinals in opener at Wrigley

Saturday, April 8, 2006

Maddux picked up the win in Chicago's 5-1 victory.

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs want to rack up the wins at Wrigley Field. Well, this was a good start.

Greg Maddux pitched neatly into the seventh inning, Derrek Lee hit his second home run of the season, and the Chicago Cubs won their home opener 5-1 over the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday.

A week shy of his 40th birthday, Maddux earned his 319th career victory. He sent the Cardinals to their first loss of the season after they swept three games at Philadelphia.

"We didn't play well here last year, and it hurt us," Lee said. "We need to establish a home-field advantage."

The Cubs were 38-43 at home last season, 79-83 overall, and finished fourth in the National League Central. They struck immediately against a team that led the majors with 100 wins last season.

Lee put the Cubs ahead with a solo home run in the first inning. Neifi Perez added three hits for the Cubs, and Ronny Cedeno tripled and doubled.

Maddux (1-0) gave up four hits, struck out one and walked two. He left with a 5-1 lead after allowing a home run to Jim Edmonds with one out in the seventh and walking the next batter, Scott Rolen.

Reliever Bob Howry retired So Taguchi and Gary Bennett to end the threat.

After posting a 13-15 record last season and finishing below .500 for the first time since 1987, Maddux was sharp from the start. With cool, blustery conditions, Maddux at times had difficulty with his balance, but, "As hard as it was to pitch, it was probably harder to hit."

Fielding was a problem, too, as the swirling winds wreaked havoc on several fly balls.

One shot by Edmonds in the fourth was knocked down by the wind. Left fielder Matt Murton took a few steps back, came in, caught it and threw a one-hopper to first to double off Juan Encarnacion to end the inning.

"The wind obviously was a real tough deal out there today," Murton said. "It was one of those balls that when hit, Encarnacion thought was going to have a chance to get down. I came in on the ball, was able to field it, looked up and saw that he was a ways off the base and was able to get him."

With Kerry Wood and Mark Prior on the disabled list, the Cubs need their other starters to come through. But the pitchers were erratic in a two-game split with Cincinnati.

The Cubs walked 16 batters in the first two games, including five by Carlos Zambrano in the season-opener.

Maddux was in control, and the Chicago hitters roughed up Jeff Suppan (0-1).

A 16-game winner last season, Suppan gave up five runs and eight hits in five innings. He struggled from the outset, after going 1-1 with a 1.71 ERA against the Cubs last season.

"My location wasn't particularly good with my offspeed pitches so I tried to go sinkers down, and they were able to put up runs pretty much every inning," Suppan said.

With two out in the first, Lee homered. The Cubs added a run in the second on Cedeno's two-out triple to the right-field corner, and scored two more in the third.

With runners on first and second and one out, shortstop David Eckstein made a diving stop on Aramis Ramirez's grounder but threw wildly to second, allowing a run to score. Michael Barrett's single to center made it 4-0 before Murton grounded into a double play.

That was plenty for Maddux.

"He did a great job sinking it, cutting it, using the changeup," Eckstein said. "He throws everything. He's probably the best at painting the game, knowing each hitter."


* After two more games against the Cubs, the Cardinals will play their first game in their new ballpark when they host Milwaukee on Monday. "The fans are going to like it because there's enough there when you look at it, it reminds you of the old park and lots that's new," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "It's really a nice mix."

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