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Cubs lose to Pirates on walk-off home run

Updated: March 31, 2014 10:45PM



PITTSBURGH — It’s only one game, and they say they’re confident, etc., etc.

But what happened with the Cubs’ hitting in their season opener Monday — more specifically, what didn’t happen — looked more like a repeat of their miserable performance at the plate last season than anything resembling a fresh start.

Not that it should be a surprise, considering the primary difference between this group of hitters and last year’s is that 30-homer run producer Alfonso Soriano was traded away and slap-hitting table-setter Emilio Bonifacio was added.

Bonifacio did his part Monday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, but nobody drove him in, and the Cubs wasted a strong Opening Day pitching performance from Jeff Samardzija in a 1-0 loss at PNC Park.

The game ended on Neil Walker’s home run off Carlos Villanueva leading off the bottom of the 10th inning.

But this one was decided long before that, when the Cubs put the leadoff man on five times before extra innings without scoring — three times putting him at second with none out. They reached third base once.

If this wasn’t a tone-setter for the new season, it was at least a reminder of the same old stuff from last year.

‘‘You can only control what you can control,’’ said Samardzija, who pitched seven efficient innings — for 15 total scoreless innings over his consecutive Opening Day starts. ‘‘We have a bat, too. We have a say in how it turns out. . . .

‘‘But ultimately, we’re out there pitching, and that’s our job. These guys are working hard; they’re doing what they can do; and we have their back 100 percent.’’

If there was an area of clearest concern coming into this season, it was how the Cubs could expect to get more production from a lineup that was shut out 16 times last year, produced the third-fewest runs in the majors and got no significant help in the offseason.

The starting rotation was rebuilt, and the bullpen seems much improved. But how often can they score enough to give the relievers a lead to work with?

‘‘I’m very confident with our guys, and how they’re going to play and how they’re going to produce,’’ new hitting coach Bill Mueller said. ‘‘We had some opportunities, and I’d rather have those opportunities than not have them at all. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out. But there’s many more to come, and the more opportunities we get, we will have success.’’

After spending last season as the worst-hitting team in the majors with men in scoring position (.218), the Cubs went 0-for-11 in that situation Monday.

‘‘I thought we had some good at-bats,’’ first-year manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘We just weren’t able to get it done.’’

Certainly, Pirates ace Francisco Liriano was part of the problem, bringing 10-strikeout stuff to a largely overmatched lineup for six innings.

‘‘He’s one of the best in the game. You tip your hat to him for throwing a great game,’’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. ‘‘But we had our opportunities.’’

Nobody more than Rizzo, who’s trying to move past his .191 season with men in scoring position last year but who, on this day at least, exemplified the Cubs’ woes. He was hitless from the cleanup spot, including at-bats with men in scoring position, with two of his three strikeouts coming in those situations. He stranded four runners.

‘‘But it’s Game 1 of 162,’’ he said. ‘‘You learn from it, and you move on, you have an off day [Tuesday] and come back on Wednesday and get going.

‘‘We’re a very confident group. The good thing is there’s a lot of good energy in the dugout and the clubhouse before the game. Even after this loss, it’s a tough loss, obviously. But it’s one game. No one’s going home yet.’’

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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