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posted: 4/5/2012 9:04 PM

Cubs try some new twists that unravel in loss

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  • Down by a run in the ninth inning, Cubs pinch runner Joe Mather is tagged out trying to score on sharply hit ball to third base.

    Down by a run in the ninth inning, Cubs pinch runner Joe Mather is tagged out trying to score on sharply hit ball to third base.
    Associated Press photos

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New regime. Same old result.

While that's true on its face, there were some new twists in the Cubs' battle plan in their 2-1 loss Thursday to the Washington Nationals on Opening Day at Wrigley Field.

Old or new, though, nothing seemed to work.

With team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer looking on, the Cubs wasted a nice pitching performance by Ryan Dempster as relievers Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol let in single runs each in the eighth and ninth innings after the Cubs had scored 1 in the fourth.

We've seen that before. The tough part for Dempster was that he dueled Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg pitch for pitch on a day when a strong northeast wind helped both guys on the mound.

The new twist came via the "aggressive" baserunning the Cubs featured in spring training and carried into the start of the regular season.

Twice the Cubs tried to be aggressive on the bases. Twice they had runners thrown out.

Here is what unfolded, or unraveled, as the case may be:

• In the fourth, Alfonso Soriano singled with one out and reached second on Ian Stewart's dribbler that Washington catcher Wilson Ramos threw away for a fielder's choice, putting runners on first and second.

With Jeff Baker up, Soriano tried to steal third and was thrown out (even though he might have looked safe). After Baker walked, Marlon Byrd hit an RBI single.

Remember, this is the 36-year-old Soriano, who stole all of two bases last year and is far removed from his days as a 40-stolen-base guy.

"Soriano had a decent jump," manager Dale Sveum said. "A real close play. We ended up scoring anyway, 1 run. But that was a time to try something like that. It didn't work out."

• Exhibit B came in the ninth inning. Ian Stewart hit a windblown triple to right field with one out and the Cubs down a run. Sveum immediately went to Joe Mather as a pinch runner for Stewart.

Baker then chopped the ball on one hop to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Mather was running on contact but was thrown out at home. When Byrd was called out on strikes, that was ballgame.

"If that ball's left or right, we score and tie the game," Sveum said. "It's hard when you have speed like that. Mather's such a good baserunner, that's the only reason I pinch ran for (Stewart), because I knew I was going to go on contact with (Nats reliever Brad) Lidge throwing all those sliders. It was going to be a tough matchup for the next couple guys."

Mather said he was ready.

"With Lidge being the veteran closer that he is and we had the tying run there, we had to go for it," he said. "Zim made a good play. Off the bat, it felt like it was probably going to be right at him. I knew I just basically had to bust it and maybe put pressure on him to maybe make a wide throw. He hung in there and made a good play."

It was a rough day for Wood and Marmol. Wood suffered a blown save, walking three batters and heaving a wild pitch. He walked Jayson Werth to force in a run that was charged to Dempster. Even though there were some close calls not given by home-plate umpire Dana DeMuth, Wood was not complaining.

"A couple could have gone either way, but I think the one everybody's talking about was the 0-2 pitch to Werth was a ball. Geo (catcher Geovany Soto) set up off the plate. It was a purpose pitch, to get him to chase it or maybe get a ring-up there. He (DeMuth) didn't miss anything that cost us anything."

Marmol suffered the loss, giving up a run on 2 hits in the ninth. He blew 10 saves last year but was having nothing of comparisons with last season.

"No, last year is over," he said. "A new year. You see a lot of new faces here. It is what it is. Last year is over. Next question."

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