Jeff Fassero, a wily veteran of 11 major-league seasons, was hoping to catch a break.
After hitting Sean Casey to load the bases in the ninth inning Monday, Fassero protested to plate umpire John Shulock, saying his 0-1 fastball had hit Casey's bat, not his helmet.
"It was just wishful thinking on my part," Fassero acknowledged. "I was trying to get a free strike."
Shulock stood by his call, which put third baseman Aaron Boone in position to end the game. Boone did just that by hitting a sacrifice fly to right to give the Reds a 5-4 victory over the Cubs on Opening Day.
Sammy Sosa caught Boone's line drive and made an accurate throw to the plate. If catcher Robert Machado had scooped the one-hopper, he might have had a play on the speedy Barry Larkin. It would have been close.
"That was a great throw," Sosa said. "I'm not blaming anybody, but I did the best I could. Larkin's a great runner, too, but the throw was right there."
The play was symbolic of the Cubs' frustrating day. They were close to succeeding many times but consistently fell short.
The Cubs left 14 runners on base. That's two more than they left on in any of their 162 games last season.
"We had our chances, no doubt," Sosa said.
Corey Patterson, making his first Opening Day start, reached base four times. Alex Gonzalez, in his first appearance in a Cubs uniform, got aboard three times.
But the Cubs didn't take advantage enough to win the game.
They tied the game 4-4 in the eighth on Fred McGriff's bloop double down the third-base line. But Roosevelt Brown, playing for the injured Moises Alou, stranded him with a groundout.
Then Fassero went to work for his second inning. He hit two batters in the eighth, quite a surprise considering he hit just one batter in 82 appearances last season.
"It was more me fighting myself out there than fighting the Reds," Fassero said. "I don't know if I was overthrowing or if I had too much adrenaline. I think the problem was mechanical."
With at least two lefties due up in the ninth, manager Don Baylor said he didn't consider replacing Fassero with closer Antonio Alfonseca.
"It was Jeff's game," he said.
With one out in the ninth, Fassero walked Larkin. Ken Griffey Jr. singled to right, bringing Casey to the plate.
Fassero's 0-1 pitch ran up and in on him. Casey fell to the turf and appeared dazed, the apparent victim of a ball to the helmet. But replays indicated the ball might have hit Casey's bat, not his helmet.
At least that's what Fassero tried to tell Shulock.
But he didn't have much of a case. Machado said he heard the ball glance off Casey's helmet before it hit his bat.
With the bases loaded, Boone sent a liner to medium right field. Sosa made the catch and fired the ball to the plate.
"I thought I had a base hit," Boone said. "I forgot that the outfield was playing in. [I'm glad] we had that speedy Larkin on third base."
The throw beat Larkin to the plate, but Machado could not hang on to the short hop. Even if he had, it would have been a difficult tag.
Fassero was saddled with the loss and the frustration of not being sharp.
"I knew from pitch one that something wasn't right," he said. "Between now and Wednesday, I'll try to figure out why I was so wild."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times