Richards' Opening Day start hits snag in fateful 4th

Richards' Opening Day start hits snag in fateful 4th

ANAHEIM -- An 0-2 fastball missed by an inch, a soft grounder rolled through a vacant infield, a double-play ball was botched and so the top of the fourth inning continued to drag on Monday night, seemingly forever but really for 41 pitches.

It gave the Cubs two additional runs, emboldened their starter, Jake Arrieta, fatigued their opponent, Garrett Richards, and proved to be the main culprit in the Angels' deflating 9-0 loss on Opening Day.

"With the exception of that fourth inning," Richards said, "I was cruising."

Richards' first three innings saw him generate 10 swinging strikes and hit 98 mph on the radar gun nine times, not to mention one pitch that was clocked at 99. The Cubs led the Majors in strikeouts last year, by a wide margin, but they were also the best in the game at prolonging at-bats, taking close pitches and shortening the outings of some of the best starting pitchers.

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By the fourth, Richards started to feel that.

"We've got to wear them down," Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler said. "That's a good pitcher out there who has good stuff."

Richards had Kris Bryant behind in the count, 0-2, when he just barely missed with a fastball on the outside corner.

"I thought it was there," Richards said. "I thought it was close."

The next three were also balls, putting two on with none out. Richards then got Kyle Schwarber to hit a sharp ground ball to the right side, but received only one out from it because first baseman C.J. Cron bobbled an initial attempt to throw to second base. Jorge Soler followed with an RBI single to left field, and then came Miguel Montero.

The Cubs' catcher fell behind in the count, 1-2, fouled off back-to-back sliders, took another one for a ball, fouled off a fastball and took another ball to run the count full. The next pitch, at 96 mph, would've been a harmless ground ball if the shortstop, Andrelton Simmons, were stationed normally.

But the Angels were shifting the left-handed-hitting Montero to pull, and Simmons was too far to the right side to get to it in time.

"Good at-bat, I guess," Richards said. "I beat him on a fastball down and away, and he happened to beat it through the six-hole."

Richards' first Opening Day start lasted only five innings and 97 pitches. He scattered six hits, walked three, struck out seven and was no match for a dominant Arrieta, who allowed three baserunners in seven innings.

Richards said he didn't get tired in that fourth.

"I feel good from one to 100," Richards said. "I don't feel like I get tired at all."

And no, he wasn't nervous when it all began.

"I treated it like it was just Game 1 of 162, which is exactly what it is," he said.

Bad as it was -- it was the first time the Angels had been shut out on Opening Day in 14 years -- it's merely 0.6 percent of the season, a loss against one of the game's finest pitchers and the prohibitive World Series favorites.

"Long season," Mike Trout said. "You can't put your head down for one game."

Richards extracted positives from it, too, because his two fastballs were lively, his slider was sharp and his changeup, the pitch he finally grasped in Spring Training, felt good. He threw nine of those changeups, upwards of 92 mph, after only throwing one last year.

"I'm not discouraged at all," Richards said. "I put my stuff up against anybody in this league, and I feel confident about that."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and Facebook , and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.