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Cubs' trip lacks finishing kick
The Cubs' 88th home opener Monday at Wrigley Field figures to be one of the most anticipated in years, with a new manager in Dusty Baker, a new attitude in the clubhouse and the same old fans who've been packing the place, win or lose.
But now the Cubs must prove the high hopes accompanying the start of the Baker era are justified.
The Cubs ventured home with a 3-3 record Sunday after a 5-4 loss to Cincinnati that included wasting a four-run first-inning lead. They are 0-2 in one-run games after going 18-36 in one-run games last year, a statistic that must be fixed if the Cubs are to change people's perceptions.
"It was a pretty good trip, but I'm not crazy about losing one-run games," Baker said. "Overall, if you can play .500 on the road and then do very well at home, [you're OK]. But certainly we played better than our outcome on the road."
Sean Casey's home run off Cubs reliever Mark Guthrie broke a 4-4 tie in the eighth inning. Kerry Wood allowed four runs on seven hits in seven innings. He struck out eight and walked one but failed to hold the 4-0 lead.
"To me, that's unacceptable," Wood said. "You've really got to put your foot on their neck and get the job done."
The Cubs got off to a fast start against Reds starter Paul Wilson by taking advantage of two throwing errors by third baseman Brandon Larson. Mark Grudzielanek doubled and came home on Larson's errant throw on an Alex Gonzalez sacrifice.
Corey Patterson's bases-loaded single made it 2-0, and the Cubs added two more when Larson threw away a potential double-play grounder off Lenny Harris' bat.
But the Reds slowly chipped away against Wood, tying the score in the sixth on back-to-back, two-out RBI singles up the middle by Casey and Larson.
"It seemed like I made good pitches to get ahead in the count and get two strikes on guys," Wood said. "But with two outs and two strikes, I seemed to leave the ball out over the plate."
With the score tied 4-4, an intentional walk to Sammy Sosa put two on with one out in the seventh. But Wilson retired Moises Alou on a pop fly and reliever Gabe White induced pinch-hitter Eric Karros to pop to first.
After Casey's homer put the Reds on top in the eighth, Grudzielanek led off the ninth with an infield single off closer Scott Williamson. But Williamson struck out Gonzalez and got Sosa to ground into a game-ending double play.
"We had one of our aces up there and got some runs, but it just wasn't good enough," Harris said. "We let 'em hang around."
Matt Clement, making his first career start in a home opener, will face Montreal right-hander Zach Day on Monday.
"It's a big deal, opening at Wrigley," Clement said. "Yankee Stadium, Wrigley and Fenwayif I could choose a place to open the [home] season, those would be the places. Hopefully it'll be a memorable experience."