Cael Brockmeyer blasts solo shot to win 2-1 in season opener


By: Mike Monaco South Bend Cubs

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — For three perfect hours on a warm Thursday night, everything fell into place for the South Bend Cubs. OpeningNight went off without a hitch, and the Cubs followed suit by topping the Bowling Green Hot Rods, 2-1, after a walk-off home run by Cael Brockmeyer in front of a sellout crowd on a historic night at Four Winds Field.

“To end the game like that on Opening Day with what we’ve had built up in South Bend, it’s nothing less than amazing,” Cubs manager Jimmy Gonzalez said.

In the first game since announcing its new affiliation with the Chicago Cubs in September, South Bend delighted the 7,086 fans — an Opening Day franchise record — before the game even started, before Brockmeyer’s heroics.

The baseball gods acted favorably toward South Bend, diverting impending rain storms and allowing the pre-game festivities to roll along uninhibited. Before the game, South Bend debuted its new mascot, Stu,welcomed Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein to throw the ceremonial first pitch and retired No. 14 in honor of late Chicago Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, who passed away in January. South Bend is in its first season of a four-year player-development contract with the Chicago Cubs.

“It all went about perfect,” Gonzalez said. “When [South Bend Cubs owner] Mr. [Andrew] Berlin went out on the field [before the game] and said that the sun was shining, that was our cue right there, our sign.”

Brockmeyer followed along in the bottom of the ninth inning. With the score knotted 1-1, Brockmeyer sauntered into the right-handed batter’s box. He walloped the first pitch he saw from new relief pitcher Mike Francoover the left-field wall.

“That’s how they write it in the story books,” Brockmeyer said of the entire day. “I can’t think of anything better, especially on Opening Day with a new organization and a new city. It’ll be something I’ll remember for a while.”

Brockmeyer had clocked two doubles to left field earlier in the game out of the No. 8 spot in the South Bend lineup.

“Lot of balls up today. My swing just felt good since swing one in the cages,” Brockmeyer said. “A lot of times guys coming out of the ‘pen, they just try to get that first fastball over. I was like ‘I don’t wanna go extra innings, so we’re gonna have to end it right here.’”

The marquee pitching matchup lived up to the expectations, as Cubs right-hander and 2014 second-rounder Jake Stinnett and Hot Rods right-hander and 2014 second-rounder Brent Honeywell threw up matching zeroes on the scoreboard, with each only allowing a solo home run.

Honeywell, who is slotted as Tampa Bay’s No. 8 prospect, per Baseball America, notched six strikeouts in four innings, sprinkling in a variety of off-speed pitches to complement his mid-90s fastball. Stinnett tossed five innings of one-run ball in his full-season debut.

“That was a strong outing,” Gonzalez said of Stinnett’s performance. “And that was honestly what we expect from him. … That’s what he’s geared up for. You saw how his composure was.”

After all the pre-game pomp and circumstance subsided and three half innings of hitless baseball followed, South Bend right fielder Jeffrey Baez brought back the fireworks by clobbering a solo home run to left-center field in the bottom of the second inning. Baez provided the first hit, home run and run in South Bend Cubs history. Bowling Green center fielder Thomas Milone countered in the top of the third and tied the game, 1-1, with a line drive home run to left field that just cleared the fence.

Offense was difficult to come by the rest of the night. South Bend stranded 14 runners on base and struck out 13 times at the plate, while Bowling Green left 16 on the base paths.

Cubs relievers Ryan Williams and James Farris each spun two shutout innings out of the bullpen. Bowling Green reliever Hunter Wood threw four no-hit innings and tallied seven strikeouts.

Bowling Green threatened in the top of the eighth inning against Farris. After issuing back-to-back walks on eight consecutive balls, Farris pounded the zone and struck out Hot Rods cleanup hitter Casey Gillaspie. With runners at first and second, Farris then blew a high fastball by Bowling Green right fielder Justin Williams to escape the jam. Farris added two more punchouts in the top of the ninth, and Brockmeyer set off the fireworks in the bottom half.

“To end like that, it was the icing on the cake,” Gonzalez said.

South Bend continues the series Friday against Bowling Green at Four Wind Field. First pitch is set for 7:35 p.m. Cubs right-hander Jeremy Null is scheduled to oppose Hot Rods righty Greg Harris.