The infamous wind on the North Side whipped the flags adorning the top of the 100-year-old ballpark with fury, and it was hard to imagine any of the 38,283 who showed up for the 100th opener in Wrigley Field’s history were comfortable as the game was nearly two-thirds over.
But Roberto Hernandez, who started his big-league career in Cleveland, was unaffected. The 33-year-old was motoring along in his Phillies debut in the sixth inning.
After Hernandez recorded the first out of the sixth — a strikeout of former Cubs All-Star Starlin Castro — manager Ryne Sandberg emerged from the dugout and gave his starting pitcher an early hook.
It was curious, because Hernandez was at only 73 pitches and the Phillies bullpen had been beaten up in back-to-back, late-inning losses in Texas in the previous two games.
While Chase Utley and John Mayberry Jr. powered the offense with home runs, Sandberg’s faith in his relievers was rewarded as the bullpen helped nail down a 7-2 win yesterday afternoon.
“It’s huge for the confidence when they go to Roberto, who was pitching great, ‘OK, you’re done and the bullpen is going to take care of it,’ ” reliever Justin De Fratus said. “That’s a good thing for us. We were excited to have that confidence instilled in us.”
De Fratus and four other members of the recently embattled relief corps — Jake Diekman, Antonio Bastardo, Mario Hollands and Jeff Manship — tacked a quartet of zeros on the historic Wrigley scoreboard to secure the Phillies’ second win in four games in 2014.
When Hernandez came out after 5-1/3 innings, the Phillies were up, 3-2, and the pitchers who followed had zero room for error. Even after watching that same ’pen blow leads after the seventh inning in the two previous games, Sandberg wasn’t afraid to turn over the final third of the game to his relief corps.
“No, not at all,” Sandberg said. “The guys in the bullpen need to pitch. It’s early in the season. They need that experience ... That’s all part of it. The guys are going to pitch. I’ve already seen improvement.”
Diekman finished Hernandez’ sixth inning, retiring both batters he faced. De Fratus, who sat on the sideline for all three games in Texas, pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning, finishing off his 2014 debut with a strikeout.
Bastardo flirted with trouble but got an inning-ending doubleplay in the eighth. Hollands, who was on the mound for the Texas Rangers’ first walkoff win on Tuesday in his big-league debut, has thrown back-to-back scoreless outings after retiring the only two batters he faced in the ninth yesterday.
“It feels good to do my job, just like everyone else in the ’pen,” Hollands said. “I wasn’t only one. We did what he asked. It works well when we’re all doing our part.”
As for the early hook on his starter, Sandberg said he was watching Hernandez carefully, since the pitcher hadn’t faced live batters in 12 days; his start in Saturday’s exhibition game in Philadelphia was rained out. Hernandez, who signed a 1-year, $4.5 million contract as a free agent to join the rotation, held Chicago to two runs on three hits, while striking out five and walking one.
“He did his job today,” Sandberg said. “He looked good. I really liked his two-seam fastball action.”
After the first pitch was thrown, the game-time temperature was announced in the press box as 38 degrees, with a wind chill that made it feel like 28. The blustery conditions helped produced a pair of wind-aided home runs.
Cubs catcher Welington Castillo launched a solo shot off Hernandez to open the scoring in the second. An inning after Ryan Howard and Domonic Brown put together back-to-back hits to tie the game, Utley ripped a fly ball to right-center that found the jet stream and carried into the bleachers to give the Phillies a 3-2 lead.
“I was screaming, ‘Get in the basket!’ ” Sandberg, the former Cubs Hall of Famer, said of the ballpark’s fenced-in basket that sits in front of the bleachers. “I thought it was a basket shot. It carried pretty well.”
“I knew it had a shot,” Utley said. “I got it high enough to catch the jet stream.”
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