Ryan Dempster walked off the mound to a standing ovation, and really the Cubs couldnt have scripted this any better. Their Opening Day starter had outpitched Stephen Strasburg, and soon the fans would be chanting Kerry! Kerry!
For all the optimism and good headlines the Cubs generated over the winter, it was pretty quiet by the end on Thursday, when you heard fans muttering to themselves as they walked down the ramps toward the exits after a 2-1 loss to the Washington Nationals.
Kerry Wood stood in front of his locker afterward and cut off a reporter who said you lose a game like this, and people are going to say these are the Cubs.
People or you? Wood said. We got a bunch of new faces in here, a new attitude and 161 left.
Theo Epstein has promised that his front office will be walled off from all the outside noise. But that doesnt mean Opening Day in Chicago wont be covered like its an NFL game.
These are the margins the Cubs will be working with, because of how their roster is constructed, and the way the winds blow into Wrigley Field the first few weeks of the season. They had borrowed against their bullpen last winter, but it still lined up for Wood and Carlos Marmol to get the final four outs.
Dempster was brilliant, taking a one-hitter into the eighth inning before leaving with a runner on and two outs. Manager Dale Sveum didnt get an argument: He actually said something comical: Yeah, thats not a bad move. I think if it was a calm day, (Ryan) Zimmerman would have had 900 feet of home runs.
Wood walked three consecutive batters, each on a 3-2 count, and allowed the game-tying run. He shook his head no when someone asked about his lighter workload in spring training, the idea being the bullets would be saved for the regular season.
Absolutely no excuses. I just didnt get it done, Wood said. Its just frustrating. Im frustrated for him, frustrated for the guys that worked hard today to give us a chance to win.
It had to be frustrating for the 41,176 fans who sat through the cold (41 degrees at first pitch). Marmol got two quick outs in the ninth before ex-Cub Chad Tracy lifted a ball to right field.
David DeJesus the first player Epstein signed last offseason got turned around, starting over his right shoulder before turning left and looking up into the sun. The ball bounced off the wall for a double.
A plus defender, DeJesus wrote it off as a good lesson on how to deal with Wrigley Field. By the time Ian Desmond lined Marmols slider into right, driving in the go-ahead run, Dempsters line (7.2 innings, one run on two hits, 10 strikeouts) was for nothing.
Im always comfortable handing the ball over to Woody, Dempster said. We want to win every game were out there, but especially Opening Day, when youre at home in front of all these great fans. Thats what hurts. When youre playing close games like that, when its 1-0, you realize how fast things can change.
I feel for Woody in that situation, I feel for Carlos, because Ive in both those seats before. Its not a fun feeling and I know theyre probably chomping at the bit to just get this day over with and get the ball back.
Just like that, the narrative shifted from the first victory of a new era, to a reporter asking Marmol about the feeling of dj vu.
You see a lot of new faces in here? Marmol said. Last year is over.