Running ahead in the polls

Chicago CubsGeorge W. BushMatt MurtonJacque JonesWill OhmanJesse WhiteTodd Walker

President Bush waltzed into the clubhouse Monday morning and asked Cubs manager Dusty Baker the same question fans have been asking each other for the last 98 seasons.

"This is the year, right?" Bush said with the faintest hint of sarcasm.

The president then gripped Baker's hand as cameras snapped away, instructing the manager to smile.

"I'll do what I got to do," Baker replied, flashing a smile.

After the photo op had ended and the president had departed, the Cubs blew a five-run first-inning lead before bouncing back for a 16-7 Opening Day victory over Cincinnati.

So is this really the year?

"We're really, really in a positive situation where we control our own destiny over the course of the season," said Will Ohman, who threw only four pitches but earned the win in relief of an erratic Carlos Zambrano.

On a cold and windy day at Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati didn't just mail it in, the Reds express-mailed it. Left fielder Adam Dunn was charged with only one error, but he also made two other glaring miscues to let the Cubs blow the door open in a seven-run sixth.

"I know the crowd was giving Dunn a hard time," Cubs center fielder Juan Pierre said. "But I was in the outfield, and I was like, 'Hey, it's not that easy out there. That wind was bad, and it was pretty tough.'"

The last time the Reds allowed at least 16 runs on Opening Day was in 1877, in a 24-6 loss to Louisville. Dunn was not responsible for any of those runs.

Matt Murton's three-run homer and Todd Walker's three RBIs paced the Cubs, who survived a game one Cubs executive described as "excruciating." It lasted 3 hours 33 minutes and included 10 walks by Cubs pitchers.

A 33-minute first inning was a harbinger of things to come. Pierre started his Cubs career with a triple down the right-field line off Aaron Harang, putting his subpar spring in the rearview mirror.

"I talked to Lou Brock once, and he said [hitting] leadoff, you can change the complexion of the game right off the bat," said Pierre, who had three hits and scored three runs. "That's what I try to do every day, and today I was pretty successful at it."

Walker doubled to left, and Dunn dropped a Jacque Jones fly with the bases loaded to make it 2-0. Two outs later, Murton poked a three-run, opposite-field homer for a 5-0 lead.

But Zambrano was shaky, walking three of the first six batters he faced and escaping the first with only one run due to Murton's leaping catch at the wall on Austin Kearns' bases-loaded shot.

Zambrano pumped his fist repeatedly after Murton's catch, but the relief was only temporary. Scott Hatteberg's three-run homer in the third pulled the Reds within a run, and Dunn tied it with a solo shot in the fifth. Zambrano never made it out of the inning and did not speak to the media afterward.

After Ohman got the final out of the fifth, the first nine Cubs reached base in the seven-run sixth, even though Derrek Lee's RBI double was the only hard-hit ball. Dunn appeared to be auditioning for the Jesse White Tumblers, turning Angel Pagan's pop and Lee's fly into run-scoring hits.

"There's nothing you can do now," Dunn said. "You can either sit and pout or try to come out and get better. I'm not going to sit and pout."

Even with a seven-run lead, the Cubs never could feel too comfortable. Scott Williamson loaded the bases with no outs the next inning, walking back-to-back hitters, before Scott Eyre got out of the jam with only one run scoring.

But Eyre threw 37 pitches in his two-inning stint, far more than he had in any spring-training outing. The Cubs burned five relievers, including closer Ryan Dempster, despite winning by nine runs.

"The main thing you're conscious of is not overusing your bullpen so early," Baker said. "That's why we stuck with [Zambrano] as long as we could. We were hoping to get five [innings] out of him."

psullivan@tribune.com

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