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Cubs' comeback falls short
After investing $13.5 million to renovate the Wrigley Field bleachers, the Cubs may want to clear another couple of hundred from the budget to make sure Larry Rothschild has enough shoes to get through the year.
Only two games into the season, the Cubs pitching coach is wearing out his current pair trying to settle down his pitchers.
Glendon Rusch and Jerome Williams were interchangeable parts in Wednesday's 8-6 loss to Cincinnati, combining to put the Cubs in a five-run hole from which they could not escape.
Patience is a familiar word to the Cubs after 98 years without a championship, and manager Dusty Baker apparently will have his patience tested often in the early going if his staff doesn't throw more strikes.
Cubs pitchers have issued 16 walks in 17 innings, and starters Rusch and Carlos Zambrano each failed to last five innings.
"I don't want to use [the set-up men] every day," Baker said. "The bullpen is shored up, but we have to do what we can until our big boys get back."
Those big boys are Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, who currently are rehabbing in Arizona with unknown return dates. Until then the Cubs' offense will have to carry a larger load. They managed to stage a late comeback but ultimately wasted two-run homers from Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee and John Mabry.
They head to Friday's home opener against St. Louis with a split in the season-opening series.
"That's how we're going to play," Lee said. "We're not going to give up. If we're behind we're going to keep going."
Reds starter Bronson Arroyo, who came from Boston in a spring-training deal that sent Wily Mo Pena to the Red Sox, earned his first NL victory since 2002, homering off Rusch on an 0-2 pitch in his first at-bat leading off the third.
The Reds were aggressive on the bases, particularly leadoff man Ryan Freel, who stretched a first-inning single into a double in a test of center fielder Juan Pierre's arm. He eventually scored on Rich Aurilia's two-out single.
In the third Freel stole second on a pitchout after walking with no outs and got such a good jump stealing third that catcher Michael Barrett didn't even bother making a throw. Aurilia promptly sent a 408-foot shot into the left-field stands, putting Cincinnati ahead 4-2.
Freel wasn't done. With a one-run lead in the ninth, he stole second, advanced to third on Barrett's throwing error and scored an insurance run on Felipe Lopez's groundout to short, taking off after Ronny Cedeno's throw to first and easily beating Lee's throw home.
"Ronny looked him back, but he had his mind made up he was going the whole time," Lee said. "I didn't make a great throw home either. They took a risk. With a one-run lead, they can gamble. It was a good play."
Baker chalked up Cedeno's mistake to inexperience.
"He probably didn't check him back long enough," he said. "With the infield in, he had plenty of time. Then Lee had to hurry. Ronny will learn."
Rusch was shown the exit after four innings, but Williams fared no better in the fifth. Penciled in as the Cubs' fifth starter, Williams served up a home run to Ken Griffey Jr. on his second pitch and fell behind often, ending his one-inning stint trailing 7-2.
But by that time, Freel already was way on his way to stealing the show.