MESA, Ariz. – The Cactus League crowds are different than the ones packed into Wrigley Field. It was only a meaningless split-squad game on a Saturday afternoon in the Arizona sunshine. Finally winning the World Series must have somewhat dulled the edge.
But Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward still thought Rajai Davis would hear it from the sellout crowd of 14,929 at Sloan Park, the what-could-have-been anxiety bubbling up when seeing the Oakland A's leadoff guy who nearly changed the course of baseball history.
"I was surprised he didn't get booed more, but that's just how our fans are," Heyward said. "They're fun like that. They have fun with the game. They acknowledge it. That's pretty cool for Cubs fans to boo you. If anybody boos you from last year, that's kind of an honor, I would say. To be on that side of things, it means you did something great."
As Alfonso Soriano liked to say, they don't boo nobodies. With one big swing, Davis almost unleashed a miserable winter for the Cubs and ended the Cleveland Indians' 68-year drought.
Manager Joe Maddon kept pushing closer Aroldis Chapman, who fired 97 pitches in Games 5, 6, and 7 combined. Davis timed seven straight fastballs in the eighth inning – the last one at 97.1 mph – and drove a Game 7-tying two-run homer just inside the foul pole and onto the left-field patio. In a now-famous rain-delay speech, Heyward gathered his teammates in a Progressive Field weight room as the Cubs regained their composure.
"They booed him, but only the first at-bat," Heyward said. "The second at-bat and the third, I was like: ‘Eh, they kind of just let him off the hook.' They let him be."
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MESA, Ariz. — The Chicago Cubs rolled out their World Series trophy for an adoring sellout crowd to enjoy once again Saturday afternoon.
The A’s? They didn’t have any postseason glory to re-live, but their Cactus League opener came with some highlights too.
Matt Joyce homered to right field in his second plate appearance with Oakland, and hotshot prospect Matt Chapman picked up where he left off last spring, belting a two-run homer that rounded out the scoring for the A’s in their 4-3 defeat at Sloan Park.
Blue-clad fans filled the Cubs’ spring home to capacity, so much so that it made getting to the park an adventure for the A’s, who traveled across town from their own Mesa headquarters at Hohokam Stadium.
The A’s arranged for a police escort to guide their team bus through the traffic. Joyce drove his own car, with teammate Adam Rosales riding shotgun, and found himself in an enviable position.
“We actually were right behind the escort, leading the bus,” Joyce said. “The (cop) on the bike was like, ‘Pull over!’ and we’re like, ‘No, we’re with the A’s.’ We felt cool for sure.”
Joyce, batting third and playing right field, walked in his first time at bat. In the fourth, Jose Rosario caught too much plate with a 1-2 fastball and Joyce parked it on to the grass beyond the right field wall.
Three batters later, Chapman drilled a 1-0 pitch from Rosario to right-center for a two-run shot. Most of the A’s are familiar with Chapman’s power from last spring, when he hit a team-high six homers. Joyce, who joined the A’s as a free agent this winter, was impressed with the opposite-field stroke from the young third baseman.
“Man, he’s strong. He’s really strong,” Joyce said. “He’s going to be a fun player to watch, and watch him mature. You can tell, he’s quiet and he works his butt off. He’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
CAMP BATTLE: Jesse Hahn, competing for the fifth starter’s spot, started for the A’s and was charged with three runs over 1 2/3 innings. Working on a limited pitch count, he gave up four hits and struck out two. He was victimized by poor luck in the second, when Matt Szczur hit a sharp comebacker that deflected off Hahn’s glove and leaked into left field for a two-run single. Jon Jay and Ian Happ each doubled off him that inning too, and Jason Heyward’s RBI grounder brought home another run for a 3-0 Cubs lead.
“It was pretty good,” Melvin said of Hahn’s outing. “Two balls hit down the line, little slicers, but those type of situations he’s trying to get some ground balls and they got him in the air. Certainly his first inning was better than his second inning.”
Raul Alcantara, another fifth starter candidate, tossed two scoreless innings while allowing one hit.
Catcher Bruce Maxwell said he liked Alcantara’s curve and that his splitter, a new pitch for Alcantara, kept a couple hitters off balance.
FAMILIAR FACE(S): Joyce enjoyed the chance to catch up with Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist as well as Cubs manager Joe Maddon. Joyce was with all three as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays from 2009-14.
Zobrist, of course, played with the A’s in the first half of 2015. His Cubs double-play partner, Addison Russell, was traded from Oakland in 2014 in the deal that brought pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A’s. Neither recorded a hit Saturday.
Right-hander Aaron Brooks, who the A’s shipped to Chicago last spring for Chris Coghlan, threw a scoreless second inning against his former club.
ODDS AND ENDS: Catcher Josh Phegley, coming off season-ending right knee surgery, has been moving well early in camp. Melvin said Phegley will start Sunday’s exhibition home opener against the Los Angeles Angels, with Kendall Graveman on the mound. … New center fielder Rajai Davis showed a glimpse of what the A’s hope is in store all season — he led the game off with a walk against lefty Mike Montgomery, then stole second and third. But Davis was stranded there. … With Khris Davis not playing, Mark Canha played left field and hit cleanup. He struck out in all three of his plate appearances. … Simon Castro, a non-roster reliever, entered for Hahn with a man on third in the second inning and coaxed an inning-ending groundout from reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant.