Rangers 4, Cubs 3: Justin Steele leaves with hamstring tightness

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I have a request.

Next time the Cubs open a season — a year or so from now — could we have a little less controversy and injury?

The Cubs lost Game 1 of the 2024 season to the Rangers 4-3 in 10 innings, and also have likely lost ace Justin Steele to the injured list, though for how long is not yet certain.

This game also featured the Cubs taking the lead three times, blowing said lead three times, a wacky and controversial play at home plate, a pinch home run by a player who had previously hit 10 career home runs in over 1,500 plate appearances and just two since 2018, and other weird and odd events.

Let’s begin at the beginning. Christopher Morel, serving as DH in the opener, opened his season with a leadoff triple in the second inning. He scored on this sac fly by Dansby Swanson [VIDEO].

The Rangers tied the game with a single run off Justin Steele in the bottom of the fourth.

Steele had been breezing through the Rangers lineup. With a runner on first and one out in the bottom of the fifth, though, this happened [VIDEO].

That’s actually a fantastic throw by Steele — but then he lands awkwardly and, as you know, left the game. He didn’t seem to have too much trouble walking off under his own power, and the team reported “left hamstring tightness.” Here’s some postgame reaction from Craig Counsell:

Steele is scheduled for an MRI exam Friday, but Counsell said he likely will land on the injured list.

“He’s pitching really, really well,” Counsell said. “Obviously an important member of the team. It looks like we’re going to miss him for a little bit here.”

You know what I don’t want to hear about this? “The Cubs should have signed Montgomery or Snell!” Arguments could have been made for that, but those ships have sailed, and you don’t sign a guy like that because you think, “Our ace is going to get hurt on Opening Day.” The Cubs do have some starting pitching depth. Maybe Jameson Taillon comes back faster than expected. Maybe Cade Horton is on the fast track to the majors. This team is deeper than last year’s. They’ll figure out a way to get through this.

Anyway, after the injury, Julian Merryweather finished off the inning with no scoring by Texas.

The Cubs took a 2-1 lead in the sixth. Seiya Suzuki hit a two-out double and Cody Bellinger doubled him in [VIDEO].

The Rangers, though, tied it up again off Yency Almonte in the bottom of the inning on a home run by Adolis Garcia. Then Mark Leiter Jr. and Hector Neris kept Texas off the board in the seventh and eighth, though Neris allowed some traffic on the bases.

Then came the wackiness in the ninth. With two out, Michael Busch and Nico Hoerner walked. Miles Mastrobuoni was sent up to bat for Nick Madrigal.

Then this happened [VIDEO].

The ESPN announcers, right away, said the ball had changed direction. It’s very, very subtle. I had to watch that clip multiple times before I saw it, but yes, Mastrobuoni’s bat did touch the ball. It should have been a foul ball. But plate umpire Chad Fairchild didn’t call it that, and I can see why — it happened so fast and it was just a tiny touch. These plays are not reviewable. You can make an argument that maybe they should be.

Rangers catcher Jonah Heim, though, began arguing with Fairchild, and that gave Busch the opportunity to score all the way from second. Hoerner took third, but was stranded.

So the Cubs got a break. They gave that break right back when Travis Jankowski, a journeyman outfielder who had homered just twice in his previous 549 at-bats, hit a ball out of the yard off Adbert Alzolay. Yikes.

The Cubs managed to load the bases with two out in the top of the 10th off old friend David Robertson, but Morel hit a soft little popup to end the inning.

Drew Smyly was tabbed for the bottom of the 10th, and after he recorded an out, issued two walks to load the bases. He did get a force at the plate for the second out, but then Heim turned from goat to hero with a walkoff single.

The Cubs had many chances to win this game, stranding eight runners. But the Rangers left 10 runners on base, so it can be argued either team could have broken this game open. They didn’t. It wasn’t a great exhibition of baseball for a national TV audience on Opening Day.

Let’s just hope that whatever happened to Steele’s hamstring is minor and he’ll be back in action soon.

Regarding extra innings on Opening Day, from BCB’s JohnW53:

Thursday’s game was only the seventh on Opening Day that the Cubs have lost in extra innings. Four of the previous six also were walkoffs: 1-0 at Cincinnati in 1910, 7-6 at Cincinnati in 1926, 3-2 at Los Angeles in 1960 and 1-0 at Pittsburgh in 2014. The two at home were 5-4 vs. the Expos in 2001 and 4-3 vs. the Brewers in 2008. The 1960 game ended in the 11th; all the others, in the 10th.

Thursday’s game was also the first Cubs extra-inning game on Opening Day since that 2014 loss in Pittsburgh.

A note about the uniforms, which we’ve covered here before: In my opinion, they still look awful with those tiny names and misplaced MLB logo on the back. Further, that’s still not the right shade of Cubs blue. I hope MLB, Nike and Fanatics can fix this issue soon.

The Cubs have Friday off and will resume the series in Texas Saturday. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and Cody Bradford gets the call for the Rangers. Game time Saturday is 6:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.

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