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Cubs’ Quade talks about contending, Byrd argues with fans before loss

Geovany SoJeff Baker congratulate Aramis Ramirez after his homer first inning. | Scott Boehm~Getty Images

Geovany Soto and Jeff Baker congratulate Aramis Ramirez after his homer in the first inning. | Scott Boehm~Getty Images

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Updated: October 29, 2011 12:37AM

MILWAUKEE — The Cubs didn’t bother to wait for the first pitch to start making their mark on this three-city tour through the division.

In a 30-minute span before the opener of the trip Tuesday, manager Mike Quade fantasized aloud about contending this year — pausing briefly to point out, ‘‘I’m not a lunatic’’ — then center fielder Marlon Byrd got into a shouting match with a self-proclaimed Cubs fan who yelled, ‘‘You guys suck!’’

The Cubs weren’t about to top that sequence with the actual game, especially after it ended their only three-game winning streak of the season.

As they opened a trade-deadline week that promises to end with a different look to the roster, the Cubs offered an all-too-familiar ­offense. They failed to score ­after the first inning in a 3-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers to start a 10-game trip against the top three teams in the National League Central.

Flush from a sweep of the Houston Astros, the worst team in baseball, Quade talked before the game about the Cubs’ improved play and about needing to continue a recent run of quality starts.

‘‘And if we get those, we’ve got every right to think we’ve got a real good chance to compete with these guys,’’ he said of the Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates. ‘‘And you know what? It’s a funny game. We might come out of this road trip in real good shape. And if we do, then there’s still a lot of baseball left.’’

Of course, that was before Dempster gave back an early 2-0 lead by allowing three runs in the bottom of the first. And before the Cubs squandered a bases-loaded, none-out situation in the sixth by grounding twice to third for three outs.

Funny game? The Cubs got another one of those quality starts and lost again, anyway.

Could Quade really have been talking about this team getting back in contention? This year?

‘‘Why not?’’ he said. ‘‘What are we, 11 back?’’

Actually, 12 as he spoke.

‘‘What if you won 10 out of 12?’’

Then they’d be 10 games under .500 — never mind that there are four teams ahead of them.

‘‘Who the hell knows?’’ he said. ‘‘It’s an interesting division to be in that situation. . . . I ain’t [conceding] nothing. We’re going to play, and we’ll see. It’s a daunting task. Four clubs in front of you. Haven’t played well. But why not? Let’s go see. . . .

‘‘I’m not a lunatic. I understand that there’s a lot of work to do ahead of us. But we’re playing the right clubs, and let’s see if we can’t put something together.’’

If that didn’t set the tone for the upcoming odyssey, what came soon after might have set the tone for the night. Byrd, while stretching before batting practice, decided to respond to the taunts of a beer-toting fan in a Cubs T-shirt.

‘‘We may suck, but you’re pathetic!’’ Byrd shouted at one point, with teammates pretending to ignore the back-and-forth.

Quade eventually coaxed Byrd, typically among the most fan-friendly Cubs, into the outfield to play catch.

‘‘I don’t think it’s frustration,’’ said Quade, who conceded it’s not a good idea for a player to do that. ‘‘I think Marlon feels pretty good about himself right now and is playing well and isn’t going to listen to anybody else. No, let me do that. . . . It happens.’’

Acknowledging he was defending his team, Byrd wouldn’t discuss the incident after the game.

‘‘We just lost a close game, a very close game,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re trying to get back in it, and we’ve got a 10-game road trip against all the top teams in this division. I’m worried about the game tonight, not a fan that’s yelling.’’

Byrd spent several minutes of batting practice after the incident signing autographs and posing for pictures at a different seating section.

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