Whenever the Cubs won a game late last season, outfielders Sammy Sosa, Kenny Lofton and Moises Alou converged in center field and high-fived each other in midair.

Watching from the bench after his season-ending knee injury, Corey Patterson could only wonder how it would feel to be in the middle of a pennant race.

Now Patterson is back in service, and he celebrated his return to the lineup with a home run in his first at-bat, kick-starting the Cubs to a 7-4 victory over Cincinnati in Monday's season opener before 42,122 fans at Great American Ball Park.

Kerry Wood got the victory, the bullpen was perfect and Alou delivered the big hit with a three-run double off starter Cory Lidle in the third inning.

But the 2004 opener was definitely Patterson's turn to feel the love.

"Awesome," Alou said. "He really reminds me a lot of myself when I was a younger player. I remember when I missed the '99 season I came back and had a great year. When you're out, you feel like the game's been taken away from you for a while.

"I remember in my first game in [2000] spring training, I hit a home run. I went on to have a great year—I hit .355. And I'm looking for Corey to have a great year like that. He's a young player with a lot of talent. He's hungry because he missed all the fun last year, and he wants to be part of it this year."

Patterson, who was the Cubs' best player last season before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in an early July baserunning mishap, acknowledged that it was no fun hanging around last September while everyone else was contributing to the playoff run.

"It was hard for me to watch Moises and Sammy and Kenny jump around in the outfield," Patterson said. "But I was happy for the guys. We're all teammates. That's just the way it goes sometimes. My injury was a freak accident. But I know that when I played I put my two cents in and I did what I could to help this team win last year, and that's pretty much what kept me going."

Wood improved to 9-0 in Cincinnati and 11-2 lifetime against the Reds, yielding four runs in five innings while striking out six. Though he was sharper in spring training, Wood was satisfied with his 95-pitch performance.

"I'm trying not to overthrow and throw everything as hard as I can," he said. "I had some success this spring as far as command, and the stuff was still there. We went out with the same approach today. Obviously it's not spring training—it means a lot more. I got out of whack a little bit, but not bad. It was first-game adrenaline, Opening Day and all that."

Wood had a 100-pitch limit and left with a one-run lead. Rookie Michael Wuertz, Kent Mercker, Kyle Farnsworth and Joe Borowski combined for four scoreless innings, and the Cubs got a couple of gift runs in the eighth after Adam Dunn struggled with the sun and dropped a routine fly with two outs. Derrek Lee scored from first on Dunn's error, and Michael Barrett followed with a run-scoring single to make it 7-4.

Despite walking two consecutive batters with two outs in the ninth and failing to break 90 m.p.h. with his fastball, Borowski earned the save. Manager Dusty Baker had LaTroy Hawkins warming up in the bullpen while Borowski struggled with his control, throwing 28 pitches, including 13 balls.

"The [radar] gun is the most overrated thing in baseball," Borowski said. "Really, what does it do? People can hit 100 [m.p.h. fastballs] just as easily as they can hit 80 [m.p.h.]. It's all location. It's like real estate—location, location, location."

Baker expressed confidence in Borowski, and there's no doubt this Cubs team is full of confidence. Just ask Sosa. "We have a 99 percent chance to win every time we go out there," he said.