Windy City Woes

Published 2:00 am Friday, July 2, 2010

CHICAGO — Disgruntled fans bade a not-so-fond farewell to Dusty Baker after the Cubs sent him packing. Four years later, he has returned to Chicago for a little revenge.

Now he’s managing the first-place Cincinnati Reds. And when his new club beat his old one 3-2 in 10 innings Thursday, fans at Wrigley Field seemed angrier than ever.

Baker said he’d rather look forward to a promising future than back at what happened in Chicago, where he guided the Cubs within five outs of the 2003 World Series but where things eventually ended unhappily — “kind of like a very good marriage gone bad,” he said.

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Asked if bringing a division-leading team into Wrigley gave him extra satisfaction, Baker said: “It would give more satisfaction if we were still in first when we leave.”

Pinch-hitter Miguel Cairo singled in the 10th and scored when the Cubs tried to turn a double play on Drew Stubbs’ grounder.

With their ninth consecutive extra-innings road victory — a streak that dates to June 2009 and the NL’s longest since Atlanta won nine straight in 1999-2000 — Baker’s Reds moved a season-high 10 games over .500.

“There’s no surprise there at all,” Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee said. “Dusty knows how to get the best out of his guys. He’s proven that over the years.”

The Reds are locked in a tight race with St. Louis in the NL Central but are 10 1/2 games ahead of the fourth-place Cubs. Chicago dropped 11 games below the break-even mark, its lowest point since finishing 2006 at 66-96 — leading to Baker’s dismissal.

The Cubs have lost 11 straight series openers and have scored two runs or fewer in 10 of their last 12 games. They were booed throughout by impatient fans who expected more from a team with baseball’s third-highest payroll.

“We just don’t seem to come up with the big hit when we need it,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. “It’s been a recurring theme.”

Baker said managing the Cubs, who last won the World Series in 1908, is difficult “because nobody lets anything go from the past.”

“I was here four out of the 100 years,” he said. “Most people act like I was here the whole hundred.”

Criticized in Chicago for refusing to use young players and for failing to instill proper fundamentals, Baker has thrived in Cincinnati because his youngsters have excelled and his team has been fundamentally sound.

Travis Wood, 23, pitched seven strong innings in his major league debut Thursday. Jay Bruce, 23, made the winning run possible with a picture-perfect slide to break up a double play. Stubbs, 25, drove in that run. Emerging star Joey Votto, 26, had two hits.

The Reds, who lead the league in fielding, also turned huge double plays in the eighth and 10th innings. Veteran second baseman Brandon Phillips keyed both.

Cairo singled off Bob Howry (1-2) with one out in the 10th and went to third on Bruce’s hit-and-run single. Stubbs then grounded to second baseman Ryan Theriot, who threw to shortstop Starlin Castro for an out. With a sliding Bruce bearing down, however, Castro dropped the ball before he could make the relay throw.

“You’re taught to play a certain way,” Bruce said. “That’s the way we play on this team. It does help win games.”

Indeed, while the Cubs lead the majors with 19 one-run losses, the Reds are best in baseball with 15 final-at-bat wins.

Jordan Smith (1-0) pitched a perfect ninth for the victory. Francisco Cordero worked the 10th for his 22nd save, getting Tyler Colvin to ground into a game-ending double play.

Wood allowed only two hits and one walk in seven shutout innings but was removed after he opened the eighth by walking Geovany Soto and Castro.

After Kosuke Fukudome sacrificed to advance both runners, Colvin singled off Nick Masset to make it 2-all. Colvin took second on the throw to the plate and went to third on Mike Fontenot’s pinch-single before Lee grounded into a double play.

Carlos Silva allowed a season-high 11 hits in 7 2-3 innings but kept the Cubs in the game by repeatedly pitching out of trouble.

NOTES: Piniella said Carlos Zambrano likely will need some minor league rehab work when the Cubs are ready to have him pitch again. Zambrano was suspended by the team after he loudly criticized teammates in the dugout during his June 25 start. The team said he is undergoing counseling for anger issues and won’t return until some time after the All-Star break. … Votto has reached base in 39 consecutive games, the majors’ longest streak this season.