ST. LOUIS -- The Cubs returned to the field as defending World Series champions on Sunday, only to find their rivals waiting with an early statement. The Cardinals, showcasing their budding ace and a changed look to the top of their lineup, overcame a blown save by Seung Hwan Oh to escape with a 4-3 win in which they reminded the Cubs that they, too, intend to be a formidable foe in 2017.
Randal Grichuk's second career walk-off hit notched the franchise's first Opening Day victory at Busch Stadium III and capped a day that began with Yadier Molina signing a three-year contract extension.
Jose Martinez, on an Opening Day roster for the first time in his career, delivered a one-out pinch-hit double off Mike Montgomery to ignite the Cardinals' game-winning rally. A pair of walks, including the first no-pitch intentional walk in baseball history, loaded the bases for Grichuk, who, having homered an inning earlier, launched a 1-1 pitch off the wall in left-center to set off a celebration.
"We didn't give up," Chicago's Kyle Schwarber said. "We grinded. Willie hits the big homer -- that's kind of the definition of our team. We won't give up until it's over. We didn't, and things didn't go our way tonight."
Contreras' blast left Carlos Martinez with a no-decision after a stellar 7 1/3-inning start. The youngest pitcher to make an Opening Day start for the Cardinals since 1989, Martinez carved up the Cubs' lineup, struck out 10 (including reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant three times) and never allowed a runner to advance past second.
"I like to take advantage of every opportunity I get, and certain opportunities don't come around all the time, so I really wanted to take full advantage of it," Martinez said of his first Opening Day start. "It wasn't only just an opportunity to show St. Louis and the Cardinals that I'm the man for the job, but a chance to showcase my talent to the world."
The evening wasn't so smooth for Cubs starter Jon Lester, who labored in his five-plus-inning start. Though he held the Cardinals hitless in seven at-bats with a runner in scoring position, he couldn't tiptoe around trouble entirely. The Cardinals knocked him for a run in the third, which opened with Dexter Fowler legging out an infield hit, his first since defecting from the Cubs to the Cardinals over the offseason. Fowler then scored on Carpenter's sacrifice fly.
"Give [Carlos Martinez] a lot of credit -- he had really good stuff from the beginning," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's got as good a right-handed arm as anybody in the league."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Mental miscue: Carpenter, an Opening Day first baseman for the first time in his career, allowed the Cubs to send the tying run to the plate in the ninth with a one-out misplay. He cleanly fielded a ground ball off the bat of Jason Heyward, but instead of taking the easy out at first, he pivoted to second, seeking the double play. It wasn't there, and Carpenter ended up not getting an out at all. Four pitches later, Contreras tied the score.
"He was just thinking aggressive, thinking, 'How am I going to get an out?'" Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "That was one that hurt."
Take it from the top: Schwarber, the Cubs' new leadoff man, singled to start the game and the season, then doubled in his next at-bat, with two outs in the third. This isn't the first time Schwarber has batted first; he did so twice in 2015. Unfortunately for the Cubs, Schwarber didn't score after his hits, which were two of the six total off Martinez. Schwarber, by the way, was 0-for-12 in his career vs. St. Louis in the regular season before Sunday's game, though he is 5-for-10 vs. the Cards in the postseason.
Following Fowler: Fowler's impact with the Cubs last season was summed up with the "You go, we go," line he'd get from Maddon. Now it's the Cardinals who are looking to follow his lead. Fowler's single, aggressiveness in going first to third on an Aledmys Diaz single and speed to beat Ben Zobrist's throw home put the Cards ahead early.
"We had to make something happen, and I like how we just put pressure [on]," Matheny said. "Guys were aggressive, and it worked out really well."
Whiteout: The Cardinals had a runner at first and none out in the third when Diaz hit a ground ball that second baseman Javier Baez didn't see. Instead of hitting into a double play, St. Louis had two on and nobody out, and eventually scored. The problem was a rotating sign behind home plate that had a white background. Baez lost the ball in the sign. There was a delay in the fourth to give Baez time to point out which sign was the problem. "You don't see Javy react to a baseball like that," Lester said. "I said, 'Hey, man, what happened? Was the umpire in the way?' He said, 'No, I didn't see it.'" More >
"I'm never going to forget this moment in my life. Never. Watching those videos of me scoring, jumping around, it's going to be pretty special. I'm going to watch this video for the whole night. I don't think I'm going to sleep tonight. I'm going to take advantage of my whole day off tomorrow." -- Jose Martinez, on scoring the game-winning run
"Believe me, I thought about it. That's our method, is to have a little bit of rain. We just didn't have a team meeting." -- Maddon, referring to the World Series Game 7 rain delay, when Heyward delivered a speech to the players. On Sunday, rain started to fall when the score was tied in the ninth
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Martinez became the first starting pitcher in the Statcast™ Era (since 2015) to record three swinging strikeouts on pitches faster than 99 mph. Martinez fanned Bryant with a 99.7-mph fastball in the first and a 99.1-mph fastball in the sixth. Addison Russell struck out on a 99.6-mph fastball in the second inning.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
In the seventh, Fowler was at first with one out when Carpenter hit a grounder to Baez, who flipped to shortstop Russell for the force. The Cardinals challenged whether Russell kept his foot on the bag. After the review, the call was allowed to stand. It seemed as though Maddon could have asked for a review to see if Fowler interfered with Russell because of the way his right leg was extended, but he did not.
"I did [consider challenging], but I thought it was a decent slide from what I saw," Maddon said. "Apparently, people are telling me [Fowler] did not attempt to hold onto the bag, and I didn't necessarily see that. It's a rule I actually hate. I probably should have gone further with that."
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs:Jake Arrieta will make his 2017 debut when the series resumes at 7:15 p.m. CT on Tuesday, live on MLB.TV. Arrieta went 3-1 against the Cardinals last year, including seven shutout innings on Sept. 23, when he struck out 10.
Cardinals: Following the team's off-day on Monday, Adam Wainwright will take the mound for his season debut in Tuesday's 7:15 p.m. CT matchup against the Cubs, live on MLB.TV. Wainwright, who finished 13-9 with a 4.62 ERA in 2016, is 13-8 with a 4.25 ERA in 40 career games vs. Chicago.