The Cubs brought a heavy hitter to Wrigley Field on Wednesday afternoon, asking the Rev. James L. Greanias, a Greek Orthodox priest from St. Iakovos Church in Valparaiso, Ind., to spread holy water around the dugout to remove an alleged curse that has hovered over the ballclub since its last World Series appearance in 1945.
But after Ryan Dempster couldn't find the plate and their hitters took another siesta in a 7-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of their National League Division Series, the Cubs might want to get out of the curse-removal business and concentrate on the game itself.
They started the postseason with a flashback to the past, though few in the crowd of 42,099 seemed prepared to watch a rerun, groaning on cue in the late innings.
But Dempster wound up strangling himself, tying a career high by walking seven batters over 42/3 innings, including three in the fifth before James Loney's game-turning grand slam.
"I don't know if I was trying to be too fine or what," Dempster said.
The Cubs now turn to Carlos Zambrano, their enigmatic nominal ace, in a must-win Game 2 Thursday night. They have been resilient all year and know they will have to do it one more time.
"Most teams are going to lose a game in a series," Dempster said. "Guys will come out ready, and we're at a really big luxury because we have our ace going in Game 2."
But Dempster was chosen as the Game 1 starter because he had pitched like an ace all year, going 14-3 at home. His lack of control stunned Piniella.
"We talked about the importance of throwing strikes before the ballgame," Piniella said. "And their guys threw strikes and ours didn't. It hurts."
Mark DeRosa's two-run homer off Derek Lowe in the second inning turned out to be the Cubs' only clutch hit of the night. Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome went 0-for-9 in the 1-2 spots as Lowe held the Cubs to two runs on seven hits over six innings. Soriano, who had no RBIs in last year's sweep by Arizona, still is trying to find a way to translate his regular-season success into October.
"It's a little frustrating," he said. "I'm not going to lie. But tomorrow is another day. … It's simple. Try to win [Thursday], and that's it."
Dempster began the fifth inning with four walks already, and a one-out walk to Rafael Furcal started his downfall. After falling behind Russell Martin 3-0, he induced a flyout, then got ahead of Manny Ramirez with two quick strikes before walking him. After Andre Ethier walked to load the bases, the Cubs' bullpen stirred. But Piniella stuck with Dempster, who served up a 1-2 pitch that Loney smacked over the center-field wall.
It was eerily reminiscent of Will Clark's fourth-inning grand slam off Greg Maddux that gave the Giants an 8-3 lead in Game 1 of the 1989 NLCS at Wrigley. Maddux pitched the final inning for the Dodgers on Wednesday, completing the circle.
Dempster allowed one more hit, Matt Kemp's double, before Piniella yanked him after 109 pitches.
With the Dodgers leading 4-2, the Cubs were hurt by "Manny being Manny" in the seventh. Ramirez took a low, 0-2 pitch from Sean Marshall and golfed it into the left-field bleachers for a solo homer, and the Dodgers later tacked on runs off Jeff Samardzija and Jason Marquis.
The Cubs had one more prime scoring opportunity, when Aramis Ramirez doubled leading off the sixth—his first hit in 14 at-bats in the last two playoffs. But Geovany Soto struck out, Jim Edmonds grounded to second and DeRosa flied to right, putting the Cubs in a dubious spot.
"You definitely don't want to go down 0-2," Derrek Lee said. "It's a short series. Every game is huge. There's no denying that. Tomorrow is a big game."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun