The Chicago Cubs came from behind 41 times in the regular season, but they couldn’t come back from after losing the lead in a 7-2 loss to the Dodgers on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field. On a windy 55-degree evening under the lights, Chicago fans watched the “lovable losers” play like the lovable losers of years past instead of the 2008 Cubs.
Ryan Dempster (0-1), making his first postseason start with the Cubs, walked the bases loaded in the third and fifth innings. He pitched out of it in the third, but gave up a grand slam to the left-center bleachers to L.A.’s James Loney in the fifth. Dempster looked more like the tightrope-walking closer than the top-of-the-rotation ace that he transformed into in the 2008 season.
Dempster couldn’t close out the inning, and three Cubs pitchers combined to give up three more runs, including a solo shot by Manny Ramirez. Ramirez’s solo home run in the seventh was his record-setting 25th postseason home run.
Mark DeRosa, still nursing a sore calf, was responsible for the Cubs’ lone piece of offense: A two-run home run in the second inning. The rest of the lineup was stifled by the relatively pedestrian pitching of Derek Lowe (1-0). The Dodgers’ game one starter, a veteran of postseason play with the Red Sox, didn’t need anything fancy to get the Cubs out, as their big bats were sleeping.
Soriano fell behind the count too often and struck out twice. Derrek Lee, among the league leaders in double-plays, hit into yet another one en route to an 0 for 4 evening at the plate. Aramis Ramirez, the Cubs’ RBI machine, hit his first ever postseason hit (a leadoff double in the sixth), but also grounded out twice, once into a doubleplay. The Cubs’ Rookie of the Year candidate, catcher Geovany Soto, went 0 for 4.
Even beloved Chicago icon Jim Belushi couldn’t wake the bats up with a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch. “We can win this one!” he shouted. The Cubs might have had a chance to win if they had played like the team that won 97 games during the regular season.
Game two of the Chicago/L.A. NLDS will be played at Wrigley Field at 8:35pm CT on Thursday.
The last time that Big Z faced the Dodgers, he saw his seven-game
winning streak come to a close with a (then) season high seven runs
allowed. In a fit of rage, Zambrano savagely attacked a Gatorade water cooler, making highlight reels across the country. Since then, Zambrano has pitched a no-hitter against the Brewers and regained his composure on and off the mound. Even after giving up eight runs two outings ago, Big Z was relatively calm when leaving the field. (No watercoolers were harmed.)
So which Zambrano will the Dodgers be facing on Thursday at Wrigley Field? My money is on the Carlos Zambrano who pitched against the Dodgers on May 28, giving up just one run over eight stellar innings. Despite his past two outings, he has never failed to turn it around when slumping. The added pressure of the postseason and the demotion to number two starter will be the fire in Zambrano’s belly.
Big Z also has another motivation to turn it on: He needs to prove that he can get it done in the postseason: In four starts, he is 0-1 with a 4.37 ERA. Last year, he went six strong innings against the Diamondbacks, giving up only one run. It wasn’t enough for the win, and Marmol gave up the game-winning run in the seventh inning. Marmol is a different pitcher this year, but don’t expect Zambrano to hand the ball over to Lou so easily in the late innings this postseason. Big Z is a workhorse, and he’ll be looking to go nine innings against the Dodgers.
We will not see a repeat of the watercooler incident. L.A. is 13th in the NL in runs scored this season. The question will not end up being whether or not Zambrano is turned on–the question is going to be, “How will the Cubs’ NL-best offense fare against the Dodgers’ NL-best pitching?”
Forget the Cubs’ regular season record. Forget the ups and the downs. It all begins again in the postseason, something that still stings from Chicago’s three-and-out last year. The Cubs will have two days off, since their make-up game on Monday with Houston has been canceled. There’s nothing more beautiful at Wrigley than the ivy changing colors in October, and Cubs’ fans are now looking forward to seeing fall baseball at Wrigley for the next four weeks. This is the year. No more superstitious BS. No more excuses. No more “lovable losers.”