CINCINNATI—The Cubs began the season with great expectations after last year's surprising success and no one in the clubhouse has lowered them three games into a 162-game campaign.
After the Cubs fell 5-3 to Cincinnati on Thursday to drop their first road series, losing pitcher Matt Clement said it's too soon to worry about his or the team's performance.
"From an individual perspective, it's one start. Sure, I'm not thrilled or happy with the way everything went. It wasn't what I expected to happen today. But to take it as too much of a negative would be the wrong thing when you still have 30-something [starts] to go. I think we're going to be fine."
Clement endured the worst spring training of his major-league career, going 0-3 with an 8.84 earned-run average. Thursday was more of the same.
Clement struggled at the outset, allowing four runs on six hits through four innings while throwing 85 pitches.
"Expectations don't mean anything to me," Clement said. "As far as the team goes, we know what we have to do. We know we have to win. There are many examples in baseball history of teams that are loaded, player-wise and pitching-wise, that didn't win. You still have to go out there and do your job."
Sammy Sosa hit his 540th career home run and drove in all three Cubs runs, but Cincinnati starter Jose Acevedo and four relievers stifled the rest of the lineup.
The Cubs hit a combined .214 from the fifth through ninth innings during the three-game series, consistently failing to come up with the clutch hit.
The Cubs drew no walks Thursday and only four in the series.
"Nobody knew this guy," manager Dusty Baker said of Acevedo, who had a career earned-run average of 5.22. "We hadn't faced him.
"Like I've said in the past, the nod goes to the pitcher most of the time because he has had two days to look at our guys and nobody has had any time to look at him. We'd have rather he pitched the first game. Then he wouldn't have a road map on what to do."
After retiring the first batter he faced, Clement loaded the bases, then gave up a two-run double to Sean Casey. He threw 29 pitches in the first inning, walking two hitters, before he breezed through the second.
But after Ken Griffey's leadoff single in the third, the Cubs rekindled memories of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, turning a potential foul popout into a nightmare. Catcher Michael Barrett couldn't locate the ball off Austin Kearns' bat, standing at the plate for a few costly seconds as third baseman Aramis Ramirez made a futile attempt to catch it on the run.
"That happens," Baker said. "You don't like it, but that's what happens."
Given new life, Kearns doubled to left on Clement's next pitch. Casey's RBI groundout made it 3-0 and Barrett's passed ball brought home another run.
After Sosa's RBI double in the fourth put the Cubs on the board, Kent Mercker gave it right back in the fifth, walking D'Angelo Jimenez with the bases loaded to give the Reds a 5-1 lead.
Sosa's two-run homer in the sixth made it a game again, but ex-Cub Phil Norton struck out pinch-hitter Ramon Martinez with two on in the seventh, closing the door on their last real opportunity.
"Guys are going to hit. It's just a matter of time," Baker said. "Don't start worrying yet. We have 159 games to go. That's a long, long way to go."