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Bad end to first date for Cubs

Kerry Wood who walked three Nationals allowed tying run bases-loaded walk JaysWerth eighth inning. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Kerry Wood, who walked three Nationals, allowed the tying run on a bases-loaded walk to Jayson Werth in the eighth inning. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 7, 2012 8:21AM



Opening Days are tricky.

You don’t know whether to sing in joy because another spring is here, the grass is green and beer costs $7.50 a cup or to mope and be depressed because the Cubs lost. Again.

As openers go at Wrigley Field, this 2-1 loss Thursday by the Cubs against the Washington Nationals was played in almost balmy weather. Sunny, 44 degrees, wind out of the northeast at 18 mph. You could get a sunburn mixed with frostbite mixed with Old Style and look rosy as a tulip.

But the frigid wind knocked down everything hit more than 10 feet high, so that possibly five fly balls — including drives by the Cubs’ Alfonso Soriano and Ian Stewart and the Nats’ Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth — were kept in the park instead of being sent bounding down Waveland and Sheffield avenues.

And it was small ball that ultimately did in the Cubs.

New manager Dale Sveum talked about how nice a couple of two- or three-run home runs would’ve been. But a successful steal by Soriano in the fourth inning or a run scored on the contact play in the ninth when Joe Mather was thrown out at the plate on Jeff Baker’s chopper directly at Zimmerman at third would’ve been just as nice.

‘‘It’s just unfortunate the fielder didn’t have to move a little left or a little right,’’ Sveum said of the bang-bang play.

Such are the inches of baseball. Such are the way the Cubs fold.

The sellout crowd of 41,176 was reveling in the gutsy performance of starting pitcher Ryan Dempster, his red beard and four-wiggle glove movement helping him to a terrific two-hit, one-run, 10-strikeout performance in 72/3 innings.

Dempster left with a man on and two outs in the eighth, and the Cubs leading 1-0.

A wild ovation was given to him and the man replacing him, favorite Cub-forever Kerry Wood. It was all set up, fairy-tale style. Retire one batter, turn the ninth over to closer Carlos Marmol, and celebrate the start of a chapter called ‘‘The Cubs Way,’’ as proposed by new president Theo Epstein.

Actor and demented Cubs fan Bill Murray had been so active in the TV booth, messing with announcers Len Kasper and Bob Brenly, singing ‘‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game,’’ lowering his microphone down to the crowd like a weighted fish hook, shouting, ‘‘We’re going to win today — we’re going to win every single day!’’ that it seemed the sheer energy of this gathering could propel the Cubs to a joyous win.

Nope.

Woody failed, walking three, forcing in a run. Marmol failed in the ninth, giving up two hits and the winning run.

It had been a wonderful event, in a way.

Lots of fathers and sons and mothers and daughters had their photos taken in front of the Ernie Banks statue, for instance. Or the Ron Santo statue. Or the Billy Williams or Harry Caray statues.

‘‘Let’s play three!’’ 80-year-old Banks himself had declared on Wednesday.

Sveum was only being reasonable when he said of the day’s performance, ‘‘On the whole, it wasn’t that bad.’’

Even boy wonder Epstein had been caught up in the thrill of baseball returning to this wonderful city and coming along for his first view.

‘‘The park looks fantastic,’’ he said. ‘‘The city looks great. Even flying back here from Phoenix and taking the bus in, seeing the trees, the leaves on them, the flowers blooming and everything — it was a real sight for sore eyes.’’

Ah, but the loss.

Word was Epstein and new GM Jed Hoyer were fuming after the game. This isn’t how they planned it. One-run losses tear you apart. The early-budding ivy on the red- brick walls above the emerald grass intersected by the beige basepaths — all that beauty means nothing in the end.

Fortunately, the show has just opened. Epstein knows this.

‘‘As much as I like Opening Day, I really cherish the second day of the year,’’ he said before the game. ‘‘Because that’s when the baseball rhythms kick in. That’s when it really feels like baseball.

‘‘Opening Day feels like a holiday, a celebration, and that’s great, but the second day of the year is when it all really kicks in.’’

See you Saturday for business.



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