Cubs open road to October with rout

Cubs open road to October with rout

CINCINNATI -- It's amazing what a bona fide leadoff hitter can do. And an improved defense. And an emphasis on doing the little things. And a solid bullpen.

But Todd Walker kept the Chicago Cubs' 16-7 Opening Day victory Monday over the Cincinnati Reds in perspective. Remember last year?

"It went better than we would've hoped," said Walker, who had three hits and three RBIs. "The only thing I can think of is that we did the same thing last year and dropped the next two to Arizona. This is a game you have to stay on top of every day. We have to come out Wednesday and work hard and get after them."

The Cubs beat the Diamondbacks, 16-6, one year ago in the season opener, then lost the next three games and finished the year under .500. They want to avoid a repeat.

Matt Murton belted a three-run homer, one of his three hits, Juan Pierre had three hits, including a leadoff triple, and Derrek Lee and Michael Barrett each drove in two runs to power the Cubs to victory in front of 42,591, including President George W. Bush.

"The 'W' was nice. He came in, wished his best to us," said Cubs pitcher Will Ohman, who picked up the win, pitching a timely one-third of an inning. "It's not very often you get to meet the leader of the free world. Yeah -- I got two 'W's' today."

Carlos Zambrano didn't last long enough for the win for the second Opening Day in a row. The Cubs right-hander got into a jam in the first and gave up a sacrifice fly to Adam Dunn. Scott Hatteberg smacked a three-run homer in the third to close to 5-4, and Dunn then tied the game with a leadoff homer in the fifth. That was one of the few times the Great American Ball Park crowd cheered Dunn.

Zambrano departed after giving up seven hits and five walks while striking out five over 4 2/3 innings. The game-time temperature of 50 degrees was nothing like what he experienced in either his native Venezuela, the World Baseball Classic or the Cactus League.

"His ball kept coming over the heart of the plate," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said of Zambrano. "It was supposed to be outside and kept creeping back over. He threw a lot of pitches in a short period of time. Those guys over there, they can whack that ball pretty good.

"I think the main problem was 'Z' told [pitching coach] Larry [Rothschild] that he couldn't feel the ball in his fingers," Baker added. "I guess the ball was cold and a little slicker, and he couldn't feel it. He tried to drop down and do different things. He couldn't command the strike zone today."

The Cubs have been wondering what they could do with the new additions. What was the fuss over Pierre after a .222 spring? Could Murton provide some power? The Cubs answered those questions in the first when they hit for the cycle.

Pierre, wearing a lucky blue camouflage shirt under his uniform, needed three pitches to get things going. He tripled off Reds starter Aaron Harang (0-1), lining a ball along the right-field line, and then scored on Walker's double. Lee walked and Aramis Ramirez singled to load the bases. Dunn dropped Jacque Jones' fly ball, allowing Walker to score. Barrett lined into a double play, but Murton followed that with an opposite-field home run to put the Cubs ahead, 5-0.

"You like to see that from a young player -- get off to a good start and break the ice," Baker said. "Get the first hit, the first RBI, the first home run -- everything. It was a very productive day."

Especially for Pierre.

"Every year, every hitter wants to get that first one out of the way," Pierre said. "Especially as the leadoff guy, you have the first shot to do the first damage. That's the beauty of being a leadoff guy, not to mention getting a triple. I think that's the first time I've done that."

"If he keeps hitting triples in front of me," Walker said, "I'm going to have a good year."

This spring, it didn't look like Pierre could buy a hit.

"There's a lot of things they were looking at me to come over here and do," the Cubs' new center fielder said. "I know my Spring Training was slow, and guys were wondering why we got this guy."

Now they know.

What about Murton's defense? The young left fielder made a leaping catch of Austin Kearns' fly ball at the wall to end the Reds' first and leave the bases loaded, much to the delight of Zambrano, who danced off the field, pumping his arms excitedly.

Can they score without big boppers? Angel Pagan, inserted in right in a double-switch in the fifth, hit an RBI single with the bases loaded that Dunn misplayed in the sixth. After Pierre knocked in a run with a bunt single, Walker hit a two-run single. Dunn's misadventures in left continued as he misplayed Lee's double.

"You can score a lot of runs a lot of different ways," Baker said. "We had almost everything today but stolen bases."

Having lots of options is a good thing. Having Pierre get things started is even better.

"C'mon, a guy on third, nobody out, top of the first, how hard is that? That's what you're dreaming of," Ohman said. "Then to have a bullpen with quality options to go to -- we're really in a positive situation where we control our own destiny over the course of the season. If we just execute on the simple things and make a great play every now and then, it's going to work out."

"This was only the first game," Pierre said, "but this game it was evident that once you get guys on base, it causes havoc. It's not just me, it's everybody. That's my intent to start off the game, not necessarily with a triple, but to get things started."

It wasn't perfect. Lee's Gold Glove failed him in the seventh when he dropped a relay throw. The Reds loaded the bases three times, taking advantage of 10 walks issued by Cubs pitchers.

There also was a minor pregame snafu.

"I said [to President Bush], 'Hey, how you doing? My name's Todd Walker.' And he said, 'Hey, Tom, how are you?'" Walker said. "I guess I didn't make too good of an impression. I was in awe of the situation, and that was a neat thing. Having him come in and say hello to each individual was impressive. I'm a big G.W. fan, so it was nice."

"You see him on TV all the time -- 'That's President Bush,'" Pierre said. "In the back of your mind, you're still thinking about Opening Day. Maybe if we go back to meet him in the White House, that would be a little bit better."

That would happen if the Cubs win the World Series. They got started in the right direction on Monday.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.