When Milwaukee second baseman Rickie Weeks barreled into Cubs catcher Geovany Soto during the first inning of Thursday's game, the Brewers looked to be sending a message to their big-city rivals.
Perhaps they should have sent a Candygram.
The bang-bang collision seemed to awaken the Cubs from their opening-week slumber and they bounced back for a 6-3 victory to avoid a series sweep.
Ryan Dempster threw six strong innings in his first start in three years, Aramis Ramirez homered and Kerry Wood registered his first career save.
Still, the Brewers definitely got the Cubs' attention this week, showing the team that buried them in the second-half of '07 they won't be intimidated this year.
"Milwaukee has a nice ballclub," manager Lou Piniella said. "Maybe this opened some eyes up over here, a little wake-up call early."
Piniella said Cubs players didn't overlook the Brewers, even though everyone south of the Mars Cheese Castle near the Illinois border seemed to pick them to finish behind Piniella's club in the NL Central. Ramirez agreed that prognosticators have underestimated the Brewers.
"I think so, because they have a real nice team," he said. "Nice bullpen, and a fast team. They can hit for power."
Because of schedule quirks, the Cubs will face their division rivals again at Wrigley at the end of the month and then go 41/2 months without seeing them in Chicago again. The first series featured seven hit batters (4-3 Cubs), along with the Weeks-Soto collision. Mark DeRosa and Felix Pie were plunked Thursday.
"I don't think it's chippiness," Dempster said. "I think we're competitive, both of us."
Piniella pointed out Cubs pitchers "hit a few people also."
"But none of them were intentional," he said. "It's not easy being perfect in this type of weather for a pitcher. Balls do get away. From our side, there was nothing intentional, believe me, and I'm sure from their side also."
Dempster, making his first start since May 4, 2005, allowed one earned run on three hits over six innings, striking out five and walking two.
He walked Weeks leading off the game before Tony Gwynn Jr. doubled. Prince Fielder followed with a sacrifice fly to deep right and Weeks knocked Soto over as he stood in the base path, allowing Kosuke Fukudome's throw to get by for an error. Dempster fielded the ball behind home plate and tried to flip it to Soto with his glove, but Gwynn scored easily with the second run.
Soto said Weeks' hit was "part of the game," and didn't faze him. Weeks had been hit twice in the opener, by Wood and by Bob Howry, and Cubs pitchers hit Fielder twice in the second game.
"I've been playing this game for a long time, and you have to expect those sort of things," Soto said. "It's like a double play."
The Cubs tied the game off Dave Bush in the second when Fukudome doubled with a man on, DeRosa followed with an RBI single and Soto added a sacrifice fly. Alfonso Soriano drew a bases-loaded walk in the fourth to put the Cubs on top and Ramirez's solo homer off gave the Cubs the lead for keeps.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun