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The Cubs and Astros will open the 2009 season Monday at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. CT. Television coverage will be provided locally by Comcast Sports Net (Cubs broadcast). Over the weekend, ESPN announced it had added the game as part of its opening day lineup and will provide national coverage on ESPN2. The game also can be heard on XM radio, Ch. 185.
The Cubs and Astros are not complete strangers to head-to-head opening day matchups with one another. Chicago and Houston opened the season twice previously, first in 1962 at Colt Stadium in Houston’s inaugural season, and again in 1999 at the Astrodome. Houston won both contests.
Many Cubs fans might have been relieved when they learned months ago that unlike most seasons, Chicago will not have an off-day following their first game. That is because the Astros play in a 'dome stadium' with a retractable roof and there is no worry of inclement weather (until hurricane season anyway). The Cubs will play three contests with the Astros before taking their first scheduled off-day Thursday.
All-time, the Cubs are 73-58-2 against 26 teams on opening day, having dropped consecutive season-openers in 2007 (against Cincinnati, 5-1) and 2008 (against Milwaukee, 4-3 in 10 innings) under manager Lou Piniella. This will be Chicago’s 82nd opening day appearance away from home. The Cubs are 44-37 lifetime on the road in season opener’s with their most recent opening day victory coming at Cincinnati in 2006. Since 2000, the Cubs are 5-4 in opening day contests.
RHP Carlos Zambrano is scheduled to start his fifth consecutive opening day contest, a streak that began in 2005 with a no-decision in a 16-6 Cubs victory over the Diamondbacks at Arizona. The last time Zambrano saw the Astros, he no-hit them in nine shutout innings at Miller Park on September 14 of last year. That game had been relocated to Milwaukee because of Hurricane Ike.
If Zambrano were to pitch another complete game against the Astros Monday, he would become the first Cubs pitcher to do so on opening day since right-hander Bill Bonham went nine innings and blanked Philadelphia, 2-0, in 1974. That was incidentally the last time the Cubs won a shutout on opening day. The last time the Cubs were involved in any shutout on opening day was in 1993 when Greg Maddux blanked Chicago, 1-0, at Wrigley Field in his first career start with the Atlanta Braves.
Zambrano has yet to win on opening day, but his five consecutive season-opening starts are a unique feat all on its own. Zambrano will become just the third pitcher in franchise history to make five consecutive season-opening starts, joining Rick Sutcliffe (1985-89) and Ferguson Jenkins (1969-73).
Zambrano had three no-decisions and one loss in his four previous opening day starts. He is looking to become the first Cubs starting pitcher to win a season-opener since Kerry Wood in 2004. In his career on opening day, Zambrano has a 5.57 ERA (13 earned runs in 21 innings).
Cubs hitters have put together some pretty impressive performances in season openers this decade. Twice Chicago has combined for 16 runs on opening day (2005 at Arizona, 2006 at Cincinnati), plus a 15-run assault (2003 at New York).
In the last 100 or so years, the most runs a Cub pitching staff allowed in a season opener was in a 12-8 loss to the Mets in 1994 at Wrigley Field. That game also saw the record for most home runs hit by a Cubs player on opening day -- three by Karl ‘Tuffy’ Rhodes.
For the most hits by a Cubs player on opening day, you have to go back to 1936 when Billy Herman collected five hits against the St. Louis Cardinals. The record for most RBIs by a Cubs player on opening day was set much more recently in 2003 when Corey Patterson drove in seven runs in a 15-2 win over the Mets at Shea Stadium.
The Cubs have played in two extra-innings games on opening day this decade, most recently in last year’s opener against Milwaukee and in 2001 against Montreal. Chicago lost both of those contests by one run in 10 innings at Wrigley Field. The longest Cubs opening day contests both went 13 innings. The most recent of those was in 1988 in a 10-9 Cubs victory at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium.
Because of the World Baseball Classic, 2009 may seem like the longest spring training in recent memory to many people, but this is not the latest the Cubs will open a season. Chicago did not play their first game of the 1877 season until May 8. And in the strike-shortened 1995 season, the Cubs played their first contest April 26 at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. The earliest Cubs season opener was played March 29, 2000, in Tokyo, Japan, against the Mets. Chicago won that contest, 5-3.
Information from the Cubs Media Relations Office was used in this report.