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Home cooked: Cubs homecomings spoiled in 5-4 loss to Red Sox

Jake Arrieta's departure with one out in the fifth marked the first time in 73 starts he has failed to pitch at least five innings.

BOSTON – Ryan Dempster, the former Cubs and Red Sox pitcher who wore World Series rings Friday from both teams, threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Cubs-Red Sox series opener at Fenway Park.

Jon Lester, the World Series hero for two franchises, took out the Cubs’ lineup card for the exchange before the game as the crowd cheered his return.

Even while jogging Thursday afternoon in the city, Cubs president Theo Epstein, returning with the Cubs for the first time since resigning as Red Sox GM to take his current job more than five years ago, thought he was getting by unrecognized until a jogger coming the other direction high-fived him without saying a word.

“It made me feel welcomed back, which is a good feeling,” Epstein said.

And then, on a brilliant, 81-degree evening at Fenway, in the middle of the heartwarming homecoming, a baseball game broke out.

And along with it, the Red Sox bats.

“I don’t give a sh— about it,” Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward said of the homecoming hoopla after five first-inning runs by the Red Sox held up for a 5-4 victory over the Cubs. “We’re trying to win baseball games.”

A Red Sox lineup that included five players drafted or signed as amateurs under Epstein – along with a third baseman he traded to the Red Sox as a minor-leaguer in 2014 – reached base in seven consecutive at-bats, scoring five runs before the second out.

“We got beat today based on their output in the first inning; that was on me,” said Arrieta (3-1), who liked his stuff, had better velocity than early starts and regrouped to retire the next eight batters.

In his last Fenway start, in 2014, he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. This time, the 42-pitch first inning and traffic in the fourth and fifth conspired to end his work night at 4 1/3 innings and 98 pitches.

It was the first time Arrieta (3-1) failed to pitch five innings in a start since Aug. 28, 2014, snapping a streak of 72 starts – the longest by a Cub since 1913.

It also was the second start in a row he battled through a rough first inning – having allowed four runs, including two homers, Saturday in Cincinnati, in a game he eventually won 12-8.

“Like Jonny [Lester] the other day, he didn’t throw the ball badly,” manager Joe Maddon said. “But we’ve got to get through it; I don’t deny that. You saw the gun. His [velocity] numbers are actually up again. Just one of those things. We’ve got to keep pushing until it comes out right.”

That’s nine runs, including three home runs, in Arrieta’s last two first innings.

In his 57 previous first innings combined: seven runs (two homers).

“You’re going to see a lot of strange things in this game,” Arrieta said. “You’re going to see streaks that are very impressive and you’ll see them end in a fashion like they did tonight, or the last couple starts. …It’s not ideal.”

While Arrieta has been tagged most in the first in recent starts, the first-inning woes have been a trend for the entire rotation – which has allowed 20 first-inning runs in the last 10 games. Only two of those games included scoreless firsts.

“I’m certain that’s going to go away,” Maddon said. “I don’t have any strong explanation [for the big firsts]. Their stuff is good. They’re well. And I really believe it’s going to trend in the right direction.”

Arrieta isn’t concerned about a personal trend.

“The stuff’s good. Velocity was good,” he said. “Just got hit on some balls that could have gone either way. The numbers aren’t exactly where you want it, but I like my chances every time I go out there.

The Cubs get another shot at doing the homecoming thing right on Saturday, when John Lackey, who helped Boston win its 2013 championship, makes his first start against the Red Sox since 2009.

<em>Epstein signs for fans before the game</em>
Epstein signs for fans before the game

Whether Epstein was still “on cloud nine” after the series, as he said he was before it, his weekend in Boston still is expected to be filled with more reunions, regardless of what happens at the ballpark.

“It’s weird being in the visiting clubhouse,” he said. “It took me a while to find it. And then I tried to be real cool. They were about to start a hitters meeting, so I was going to walk to the dugout, and I think I walked into a utility closet.

“And then I found the right door.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Kyle Schwarber inside the Green Monster before the game

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