Cubs have that rundown feeling in loss to Nationals

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Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs is tagged out at third base by Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals in the fourth inning at Wrigley Field Thursday, April 5, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

A 61-year-old man in a Cubs jersey and cap was allowed to circle the bases at Wrigley Field in a slow, occasionally stutter-stepped jog before the Cubs’ season opener Thursday.

To great fanfare, cheers and laughter, Bill Murray then fell across home plate in a dramatic mock ‘‘slide.”

Three hours later, that was still the Cubs’ baserunning highlight of the day.

For a team that made aggressive baserunning a point of emphasis for more than six weeks of spring training, the Cubs spent the first nine innings of the 2012 season circling the bases exactly as many times as Murray did.

Along the way, they got burned twice by their own aggressive methods, including pinch runner Joe Mather getting thrown out at the plate in the ninth on a ‘‘contact” play when Jeff Baker’s one-hopper went right at drawn-in third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

Several media members made the obvious ‘‘Groundhog Day” reference after the Cubs’ 2-1 loss to the Washington Nationals. But this is a new era.


The idea of déjà vu? Same as last year?

The question wasn’t even finished before closer Carlos Marmol shot back, ‘‘No. Last year’s over. This is a new year. Next question.”

OK, then, what’s next?

And what must manager Dale Sveum have been thinking? He got an ‘‘incredible” 72/3 innings from starter Ryan Dempster and got through Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg’s start with a 1-0 lead, only to see it go up in smoke after his top two relievers needed to get only four outs between them.

This, after all, was according to the script until then, and it probably was the best-case scenario the Cubs could have drawn up.

Starting pitching? Check. Improved fielding? Eh, not too bad. Bullpen, run production, baserunning? Yipes.

Sveum made the right moves. With Dempster at 108 pitches, a runner at first and two outs, setup man Kerry Wood entered.

‘‘I’m fine with that,” Dempster said. ‘‘He knows what he’s doing out there. I’m always comfortable handing the ball over to Woody.”

Three batters later, Wood had walked all three, forcing in the tying run. By the time he got the fourth batter, Mark DeRosa, for the final out, he had thrown more pitches in 20 minutes (25) than he had in the final 16 days of spring training (20) as he was eased into the season.

‘‘Absolutely no excuses,” Wood said. ‘‘I didn’t get it done today. Ryan takes a one-hitter into the eighth inning. I come in to get one out and didn’t do it. It’s just frustrating. I’m frustrated for him, frustrated for the guys that worked hard today to give us a chance to win.”

Then came Carlos Marmol, who led the majors with 10 blown saves last year but finished this spring strong. He got two quick outs, then gave up a double to right by Chad Tracy. Ian Desmond followed with a soft single to right to drive home the go-ahead run.

‘‘He took advantage of a good pitch and hit a blooper,” Marmol said. ‘‘That’s what it was. Somebody had to score a run. You’re not going to make excuses. You go out there and give it what you have that day.”

Sveum didn’t have any problems with the effort, not even with Alfonso Soriano’s unsuccessful steal attempt of third in the fourth inning, one batter before Marlon Byrd’s run-scoring single to left might have otherwise brought home two.

After all, it’s just one game. There’s still plenty of time for that new era to kick in, right?

‘‘Bunch of new faces in here, a new attitude,” Wood said, ‘‘and 161 left.”

Next question.

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