Cubs ruin Reds opener

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 6, 2004

CINCINNATI - Sammy Sosa had trouble getting the ball out of the infield. Kerry Wood had trouble finding the plate. There were misadventures galore in the last inning.

No matter. The Cubs won the kind of game they've been known to squander in the past.

The defending NL Central champions weren't at their best in the season opener, but still got off to the type of start they wanted. A 7-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds left them feeling pretty good about their ability to win ragged games.

Email newsletter signup

"It could have been better, but I'll take it," said Wood, who needed 95 pitches to make it through five innings.

The same went for Sosa, who walked, struck out, grounded out, popped out and flied out, leaving it up to the rest of the lineup to produce the runs.

Corey Patterson homered on the fourth pitch of the game, and Moises Alou hit a bases-loaded double as Chicago got ahead early and held on through a wild ninth.

"We've got a great team," Sosa said. "No one has to feel like they've got to go out and hit three homers in one at-bat."

On a 45-degree afternoon, the ball wasn't flying and the starters weren't throwing strikes very often, forcing both teams to create runs. The Cubs showed a lot more creativity.

The season began with a scoreboard tribute to former Reds owner Marge Schott, who died last month, and a ceremonial first pitch by Vice President Dick Cheney, who wore a bright red jacket for the occasion.

He stood on the grass in front of the mound and threw a strike to crouched catcher Jason LaRue. The two pitchers that followed him weren't nearly so accurate.

Cincinnati's Cory Lidle, who lost 15 games for Toronto last season, lasted five innings in his first opening day start. Patterson hit a solo homer in the first, and Alou's three-run double put the Cubs in control in the third.

"As I look back on the outing, I can't see too many things that went wrong," said Lidle, who gave up five runs and six hits in five innings. "I was falling behind in the third inning. I might have been a little excited because it was opening day."

So was Wood, who gave up four runs in five innings and regularly went deep in the count.

"I got a little out of whack - not bad," Wood said. "It was first-game adrenaline, opening day and all of that."

The Cubs wanted to get off to a good start to take another chunk out of their legacy. They won their first division title in 14 years and came within five outs of the World Series last October, major breakthroughs for baseball's lovable losers.

This year, they want to put together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1971-72 and reach the World Series for the first time since 1945.

"This is a new year, a new opportunity to go all the way," Alou said. "We feel we have the team to do it. We just need a little luck. We feel we're going to win a lot of games."

They looked more like the old lovable losers in the ninth, when they ran into a double play - Mark Grudzielanek was out at the plate, Patterson at third - on Alou's single to center.

Joe Borowski then got two outs in the bottom of the inning and walked the next two before striking out Barry Larkin to end it.

"Everybody did their job today," Borowski said. "The offense looked good. The pitching looked good. We got that first victory out of the way. Hopefully it's a sign of things to come."

The Reds hope it's not a glimpse of their season ahead.

Ken Griffey Jr. was out of the lineup with a strained calf, a week-old injury that hasn't fully healed. Owner Carl Lindner, who slashed $15 million off the payroll for the second season in a new ballpark, got booed when he went on the field before the game.

Then, the Reds fell to 0-2 in openers at their new park.

"It wasn't exactly how I wanted it to go," Lidle said.

Not even close.

Notes: The Cubs have played 34 season openers against the Reds, the most against any opponent, going 19-15. … Griffey is expected to miss a few more games while he gets the injured leg back to full strength. … Griffey has seven opening day homers, trailing Frank Robinson by one

for the major league record. … It probably was the last home opener for Larkin, who turns 40 later this month and expects to retire after the season. He went 0-for-4 with a walk in his 17th Cincinnati opener, matching Pete Rose and Bid McPhee for most in franchise history.