Final in 10

Series: Game 1 of 3

Pittsburgh leads 1-0 (as of 3/31)

Game 1: Monday, March 31
Chi Cubs0Final
in 10
Game 2: Wednesday, April 2
Chi Cubs3Final
in 16
Game 3: Thursday, April 3
Chi Cubs3Final

Cubs 0

(0-1, 0-1 away)

Pirates 1

(1-0, 1-0 home)

    Coverage:  ESPN/WatchESPN

    1:00 PM ET, March 31, 2014

    PNC Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

    12345678910 R H E
    CHC 0000000000 0 6 0
    PIT 0000000001 1 6 0

    W: B. Morris (1-0)

    L: C. Villanueva (0-1)

    Cubs-Pirates Preview

    PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The family reunion will be short. Whether it will be sweet hardly matters. At last, the wounds of 21 years of futility have finally started to heal.

    One magical summer took care of all that.

    When the Pittsburgh Pirates take the field for Monday's opener against the rebuilding Chicago Cubs, they'll do it without the burden of two decades of losing. They'll do it with the momentum that comes after the best season in a generation, and something just as valuable as they try to prove their breakout 2013 was no fluke: legitimate optimism.

    "I feel very confident about the hunger in the room, the focus on getting better," manager Clint Hurdle said. "These guys work hard and they have a lot of fun. It's a unique combination to be a part of."

    One last bit of housekeeping awaits for the Pirates (94-68) before 2014 begins. In a nod to the club's storied past and its promising present, two familiar faces will provide some closure on a breathtaking season when Barry Bonds and Jim Leyland present their current-day counterparts with a little hardware.

    Bonds will hand star center fielder Andrew McCutchen the 2013 NL MVP Award. Leyland will do the same for Hurdle, the 2013 NL Manager of the Year.

    Leyland remains a beloved figure 18 years after his departure. Bonds, whose decision to leave Pittsburgh for San Francisco following the 1992 season marked the start of the darkest era in Pirates history, does not.

    Though their reception might be mixed, their presence will serve as a symbolic closing of one of the most ignominious chapters in the history of professional sports.

    Finally, baseball is back in Pittsburgh. And the current group of Pirates plans to keep it that way.

    "This is a group that has come together," Hurdle said. "They know what they want, they know the sacrifice they have to make to get there. They don't overcook things mentally and they're pretty good at moving on from minor disappointments or setbacks."

    Perhaps it's fitting then, that the player who exemplified Pittsburgh's resurgence in 2013 will take the mound in the opener. Last spring, left-hander Francisco Liriano (16-8, 3.02 ERA) was rehabilitating a broken right arm and wondering if the mechanical changes to his delivery would ever pay off.

    He was outstanding during the regular season, had two more solid starts in the playoffs and begins 2014 elevated to the role of ace after veteran A.J. Burnett bolted for Philadelphia in free agency.

    It's a position Liriano does not take for granted after spending five years trying to regain the form he flashed before Tommy John surgery derailed his career in 2007.

    "It's an honor," Liriano said. "I just want to stay calm and try to go as deep in the game as I can."

    While most preseason predictions have the Pirates still in the mix in the highly competitive NL Central, the Cubs have replaced Pittsburgh as the team moored at the bottom of the standings. Chicago hasn't finished above .500 in five years, the club's longest streak of futility since 1985-88.

    Though President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein's project remains very much a work in progress, the Cubs (66-96) have some building blocks, including opening day starter Jeff Samardzija (8-13, 4.34). The right-hander pitched eight innings of two-hit ball while beating Pittsburgh in the opener last year, though it did little to prevent Chicago from a miserable April that doomed it to another also-ran finish.

    Although the Cubs allow they have some catching up to do, they're not exactly planning on playing down to diminished expectations.

    "We're going to stick with the positive mentality," pitcher Jason Hammel said. "It's a big year for everybody. We're not going to pay attention to what everybody else says. We know what we have in this clubhouse and we're just going to keep pushing each other and picking each other up. We have very high expectations for ourselves and that's just the way it is. If we get off on a good roll, who knows what can happen?"

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


    Gameday Matchup

    Current StreakW1L2
    Last 105-56-4

    Pitching Matchup

    J. Samardzija
    7-13, 2.99 ERA

    Last Game:
    9/27 at TEX
    7.0 IP, 5 ER
    Dec = Loss
    F. Liriano
    7-10, 3.38 ERA

    Last Game:
    9/27 at CIN
    5.0 IP, 3 ER
    Dec = ND

    Gameday Lineups

    1. E. Bonifacio, 2B S. Marte, LF
    2. J. Lake, LF T. Snider, RF
    3. S. Castro, SS A. McCutchen, CF
    4. A. Rizzo, 1B P. Alvarez, 3B
    5. M. Olt, 3B R. Martin, C
    6. W. Castillo, C N. Walker, 2B
    7. N. Schierholtz, RF T. Ishikawa, 1B
    8. D. Barney, 2B J. Mercer, SS
    9. J. Samardzija, P F. Liriano, P

    Research Notes

    From Elias: Neil Walker hit a walk-off HR in the 10th inning of a 1-0 win over the Cubs on Opening Day. FROM ELIAS: It's the 2nd time in MLB history a player hit a walk-off HR in a 1-0 win on Opening Day, and the other was also a Pirate. On April 12, 1965, Bob Bailey hit a walk-off HR in the 10th inning off Juan Marichal in a 1-0 Pirates win over the Giants.
    The Pirates have won six Opening Day games in their history by a score of 1-0. Four of them have come against the Cubs (1947, 1949, 1978, and now 2014). They also beat the Giants in 1965 and the Cardinals in 1902 by that score.
    The attendance in PNC Park for Opening Day on Monday was 39,833. It's the largest regular-season crowd in stadium history (opened 2001). The Pirates did cram in 40,487 for last year's Wild Card game.
    Stephen Strasburg had 10 strikeouts Monday, tying him with Steve Rogers in 1982 for the most strikeouts in the team's first game of a season in Nationals/Expos history. Francisco Liriano also struck out 10 batters Monday, joining Strasburg as the 5th and 6th pitchers since 2010 to have 10 strikeouts in his team's first game of a season.
    Anthony Rizzo: 5th Cubs player to go hitless with 3 or more K in the team's 1st game of the year in the last 35 seasons. It also happened last season with Brent Lillibridge as he also went hitless with 3 K against the Pirates.
    The last 1-0, extra-inning win on Opening Day came on March 31, 1998, when the Mets beat the Phillies, 1-0, in 14 innings.
    The Pirates are just the third team in the last 100 years to have 10-K games from their Opening Day starter in back-to-back years (A.J. Burnett had 10 last year), and the first where two different pitchers did it. The other two teams are the 2000-01 Diamondbacks (Randy Johnson) and the Washington Senators of 1916-17 (Walter Johnson). Other than Liriano and Burnett, the only Pirates with double-digit strikeouts on Opening Day were John Candelaria in 1983 and Bob Veale in 1965.

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