Wait, it's the Cubs' opener already?

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Here we go again. When last we left our North Side heroes they were putting on quite the hitting display in the NLDS and then were swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In case you haven't heard, the Cubs haven't won the World Series in 99½ or so years, or half the life span of the Brian-Roberts-to-the-Cubs rumor.

Why just today manager Lou Piniella addressed this drought and said it's odd that any team could go a century without winning jack diddly squat.

"It seems rather improbable," the Cubs skipper was quoted in Paul Sullivan's Hardball blog, meaning, as I interpret the remarks, not that this is the Cubs' year but rather that's quite a feat.

"I mean, that's a long time. Let's see if we can do something about it. That's all we can do -- do something about it. We're going to try our darndest."

But Piniella recently has come to the realization that this cursed franchise has had a century's worth of "Cubby Occurrences," which basically means they've fielded 99 bad teams in a row, or least teams not good enough to win it all. Of course, you have your occasional goat, black cat, Gatorade-soaked glove, bespectacled dork for convenience and myth's sake, but c'mon, let's get serious, they've stunk up the National League for 99 years.

So perhaps that's this year's rallying cry: "Let's see if we can do something about it." It doesn't have the ring of, say, last year's "It's gonna happen" (which didn't) or "In Dusty we Trusty" (aka long live Neifi Perez). It doesn't fit on a T-shirt of a normal-sized human being, but, at this point, it's about all you can say.

There are a few changes this year. Most importantly your witty comments now appear at the bottom of the page. They also re-did the playing surface at Wrigley Field, which will get quite the test on this soggy final day of March. (Here's how it works.) They re-did the lineup, importing Kosuke Fukudome. Kerry Wood is the closer. Meanwhile, Carlos Zambrano should be quite rested for this game. Right, Lou?

Last I ventured outside on a Walgreen's run it was hideous. Just cold and rainy, which is why I've been to the opener only once in my life and left after the fifth inning to thaw out in the warmth of a local tavern. No such luck today because I'm stuck in the office like you. At least this place has a roof.

Let's go. Today's lineups.

Required Brewers update: Manager Ned Yost has flip-flopped Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun in the lineup, batting the big man third. He'll also bat catcher Jason Kendall ninth ahead of pitcher Ben Sheets because, according to Dave van Dyck, Yost has determined that Kendall is an excellent "second lead-off" man, which basically is a gentle way of saying, "Dude, you can't hit a lick anymore, so we're batting you behind the pitcher."

Baseball soon from the future From the Cubicle Wrigley Field.

Rain delay

This game will not start until 2 p.m. at the earliest. Here's the radar. Warning: It's not pretty. While the rain keeps this game away, WGN is showing this morning's ceremony unveiling the statue of Ernie Banks. .

It's 1:45 p.m. do you know where your Wayne Messmer is? Yes, he's on the field belting out the Anthem. Gary Pressey is tickling the ivories (or plastics keys) of the Wrigley Field Lowrey Organ. Baseball is imminent. After, of course, the first pitch and a bunch of commercials. Wait, we've got some more honoring of Ernie Banks on the field first, replete with a trumpet fanfare, Hank Aaron, Billy Williams and Cubs suit Crane Kenney flowing what sounds like some free verse. Spoken word.

First inning

Kosuke Fukudome leads the Cubs onto the field and trots out to right to a nice hand. Carlos Zambrano says a quick prayer and Rickie Weeks digs into the muddy batter's box after a 40-minute rain delay. It's misty out and Weeks takes a fastball down the middle for strike one. Weeks fouls one back and then can't hold up on a breaking ball down and away for strike three. Zambrano quickly gets ahead of Tony Gwynn 0-2 and then just misses off the outside corner. Gwynn hits a slow roller towards third. Aramis Ramirez can't get a grip on it and doesn't even bother making a throw. I suppose that will be ruled a hit, but it could go either way. With the shift on, Fieler grounds to the right side. There's no double play because no one is covering second with the shift on, but they get Fielder at first. Gwynn steals third on the first pitch to Ryan Braun. Braun pops up in fould ground towards first and Geovany Soto squeezes it for the final out.

Ryan Theriot flies out to right. Alfonso Soriano works the count full before slicing one down the right-field line where Corey Hart grabs it for the second out. Derrek Lee strikes out to end the first.

Second inning

Zambrano strikes out Bill Hall looking to pass Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown for 10th on the Cubs' all-time strikeout list. Sure, old school. Hart sends one deep center. Felix Pie initially froze but then tracked it down right in front of the wall for a nice catch. J.J. Hardy pops up a full-count pitch for the final out.

Programming note to readers, if you came to this page through the front of ChicagoTribune.com, please go here instead, so the comments will display correctly. Thanks. For those of you wondering about the condition of the field, it appears as if Roger Bossard really worked his magic on it. It looks great, even in this weather. Ramirez takes some mighty hacks up there, misses a few, fouls one off before grounding out to second. And here's Kosuke Fukudome. He smokes the first pitch over Gwynn's head in center for a double. Hai! Wrigley Field loved that. Mark DeRosa drives it deep to right-center; Gwynn tracks it down and Fukudome tags and takes third. Gwynn, by the way, has a knit hat over his cap. No way MLB allows that, Len and Bob mention. Soto draws a walk. With runners on the corners and two out, Pie swings at a dropped third strike and former Cubs legend Jason Kendall throws him out at first.

Third inning

Sheets takes a called third strike and good thing he's batting eighth. Kendall draws a walk, so maybe that strategy will work out this time around. Weeks pops up to DeRosa at second. Gwynn bloops one towards second and DeRosa makes a nice belly-flopping catch for the third out. WGN goes immediately to commercial, cutting Len Kasper off in mid sentence.

For those of you wondering for some reason, on my desk from left to right is a an old Sony TV/VCR combo (the VCR eats tapes), a cup of mild roast Headliners (the Trib cafeteria) coffee, a 32-ounce Nalgene water bottle, a 50-count Walgreens brand bottle of Ibuprofen, a ball the great Courtney Duncan threw to me way back in the day, and, yes, a new monitor. Not pictured: McKenzie Brothers talking diorama. I'll have to get a picture of that for you in the future. Also, a belated welcome to everyone reading. Welcome back. Happy Opening Day! The rain has started up but we will press on. Zambrano fouls off a few pitches to fall behind 0-2 before chasing a third strike in the dirt. OK, so I lied: Here comes the tarp. And here come the boos because of it.

Rain delay, part II (no score, but there have been two hits)

I'll keep you posted of any pressing developments or TWIB notes. The board is still open for business. Can't get enough of that Illinois Lottery, have a ball jingle.

3 p.m. update: Here's Tom Skililng. He's not telling me much, outside of the fact that it's 54 at the Cubby Bear and "these southerly winds are blowing with gusto." He told us a lot but not when this rain is going to end. Gotta love the isobars, though.

3:11 update: The grounds crew is making its move. They're messing with that big tube and will have the tarp rolled up soon. Let's hope.

3:27 p.m.: Zambrano is warming up in the outfield and will continue. No word on Ben Sheets. As someone on the board mentioned, Prince Fielder is finishing up his Lou Malnatis. Do I want some Diamond Dry? Yes, have some. Commercial break but we're close, people.

Third inning (cont.)

To recap, one out in the bottom of the third in a scoreless draw between the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers on March 31, 2008. Sheets continues for the Brewers and throws a strike to Theriot. Yes, we are just starting the second time through the lineup. Ugh. Theriot fans. Soriano chases a ball in the dirt for strike three and the Cubs pick up right where they left off before the rains came the second time.

No score

Fourth inning

Fielder fouls a few pitches off before Zambrano fools him with a slow breaking ball for strike three. Zambrano jams Braun, who grounds to short. Theriot fields in on the move and gets some help from Lee at first, who picks the low throw. Hall flies out and Zambrano looks sharp after sitting for 49 minutes doing ... who knows what.

A bearded Derrek Lee digs in to start the Cubs' half of the fourth. The wind is now blowing straight out to left, according to Bob. Lee takes a curve on the outside corner for a called strike three. Ramirez lines one to right but Hart is there. Fukudome, who has the Cubs' lone hit, walks to the plate. Sheets throws one inside to back him off. The crowd doesn't like it. Fukudome draws a walk and so far this guy is a major fan favorite. The crowd reacted to every pitch in that at-bat. DeRosa sends it deep to center, but Gwynn robs him of a hit, crashing into the vine-covered wall to end the inning.

Score? We have no score

Fifth inning

Hart grounds to third for a quick first out. Hardy flies out to right to get the final two-thirds of the dreaded Hall-Hart-and-Hardy triumvirate. Sheets lines out to Lee and Zambrano has himself a nice, 1-2-3 inning.

Soto grounds to Hall for the first out. Pie works the count full and looks at a curve for strike three. Not so sure about that guy. Zambrano pops it way up and it eventually falls to earth and lands in the shortstop's glove. Rolling right along here.

Still nothing

Sixth inning

Kendall flies out to Pie in center. Zambrano strikes out Weeks. So, the Brewers' lone hit was that infield single by Gwynn, which could've been ruled an error (I'd have to see it again) but that's how good Zambrano has been today. And just as I type that Gwynn bloops a single the other way to left. Just like that, here's the big guy Fielder with a man on. He takes a mighty cut but misses. What's with his pants? You could fit six Felix Pies in there. Fielder crushes a foul ball way the heck out onto Sheffield. Zambrano jams him on a 2-2 pitch and Fielder sends a slow roller to the right side for the third out.

Theriot grounds out to short. Soriano grounds to first. Fielder takes it and flips to Sheets covering the bag. For the pitch-count heads, that's 91 pitches for Sheets. On the 92nd pitch, Lee pops out to second.

Nothing to see here

Seventh inning

Braun pops up the first pitch in front of the mound. The entire Cubs infield converges, Zambrano takes it and Lee takes him out at the legs with a chop block that would draw a 15-yard penalty in the NFL. But Zambrano holds on and his ACLs are intact. Oh, geat: it's raining again. Zambrano has thown 83 pitches. Hall rips the next one off the top of the left-field wall for a one-out double. Carlos Marmol gets up and starts throwing in the pen. Zambrano wheels and nearly picks Hall off second. Meanwhile, Sammy Sosa's old buddy Salomon Torres gets up in the Brewers' pen. Zambrano wheels again and this time picks off Hall, thanks to a nice play by DeRosa, who blocked the bag with his knee. Here we go again, Zambrano's got he forearm cramps. Or what looks like his usualy cramps. He's done and leaves the field stretching back his index finger, which along with his history leads me to believe that's what it is. Eat a banana already. And kids, as I've reminded you in the past in this situation, gotta stay hydrated. Always. So here's Marmol in the rain. Marmol throws one pitch and strikes out Hart. Here's a very hoarse Ernie Banks to sing TMOTTBG.

Sheets is still in there and goes 2-2 to Ramirez before he flies out to center. Fukudome strolls up there and stokes the first pitch into center for a single. That brings Yost out of the dugout, who yanks Sheets for Torres. And for those of you who've forgotten or are too young to remember, here's Sosa's connection to Torres. Speaking of which, Torres plunks DeRosa in the back. With Soto up with two on and one out, Fukudome gets caught between second and third on a ball in the dirt. Kendall sprints out and tags him, but DeRosa is able to take second. Soto walks. Pie grounds to second and so much for that inning. So Fukudome goes 2-for-2 with a walk but misreads a ball in the dirt and gets picked off second. Good thing for him his name is not Jacque Jones.


Eighth inning

Marmol, whose pitch count stans at one, continues. Now after some replays and discussion from Len and Bob, maybe Zambrano hurt his hand when Lee took him out. Hardy leads off the eighth. I apologize if Big Z was properly hydrated. Hardy waves at a slider down and away for strike three. Gabe Gross bats in the pitcher's spot. In case you're wondering, Larry Rothschild is in fact awake. Marmol strikes out the lefty Gross. Kendall pops up to shallow left on the first pitch. Theriot takes it running back it but it was not an easy play.

The immortal Daryle Ward, hitting for Marmol, will face Guillermo Mota to start the bottom half of the eighth. It's now official, Zambrano left with cramps. So I take back my apology, but extend an olive branch to Derrek Lee. The count goes full to Ward. Hard hit but right at the second baseman, Weeks. Kerry Wood is up and throwing. Theriot takes a called third strike. He's 0-for-4 and I'm no mathematician, but I believe that's a .000 OBP for your leadoff guy. OK, it's one game. Sorriano takes a called third and he joins the rest fo the guys at the top of the Cubs' lineup in doing nothing today. In fact the first four hitters are 0-for-14.

Sometimes numbers representing runs go here. Not today.

Ninth inning

Wood takes the mound in a non-save situation and drills Weeks in the back with the first pitch--a fastball. That's after not walking a guy all spring. I think that's a little payback for Torres drilling DeRosa. Gwynn bunts it up in the air and foul but Ramirez can't get to it. Bunt No. 2 rolls foul. Bunt No. 3 is right at Ramirez but gets the job done and moves Weeks to second. Lou takes a slow stroll to the mound. Let's pick 'em up and put 'em down here, Lou. Hustle up. They walk Fielder intentionally. Ball one low and away to Braun. Braun busts his bat and muscles a single to left, knocking in Weeks. Braun trips all over himself getting out of the box. Run much? First and second with one out and Bill Hall up. Hall strikes out swinging at a fastball. Hart knocks 'em both in with a triple to the right-field corner. Hardy grounds to short to end the inning and there are some audible boos. Hart was credited with a double on that because the throw went to the plate.

Brewers 3, Cubs 0

OK, start up the questions everyone. Why is Theriot leading off, why is Wood closing and not Marmol, was Wood throwing at Weeks in a scoreless game, what ever happened to Derrek Lee, what's with the cramps again, Carols. Zambrano, however, looked really sharp before he left. Eric Gagne, who looks like he slept in his uniform, comes on to try and close this out for Milwaukee. Good lord, man, tuck your shirt in. And do something about those pants. Hey, there's Derrek Lee with a single to right. Ramirez, taking all the way, gets ahead 3-0. Ball four and there's two on and no out for Fukudome. Gagne's twitching and fiddling with his goggles and stamping the mud out of his spikes. He's a bit distracted. The chant of "Fuk-u-dome! Fuk-u-dome!" rings out. The count goes to 3-0. He takes a strike down the middle and then pokes a three-run homer to right-center. The place is up for grabs. Len is screaming. Fukudome takes a curtain call and we're all tied up at 3-3. DeRosa pops out to but Wrigley is still humming. Soto strikes out swinging. Pie turns on one and rips it deep ... but it hooks foul. Pie grounds one down the first-base line. Fielder fields it behind the bag, Gagne isn't even in the picture and he's not going to beat Pie in a foot race. Rather than step on first he opts tag Pie and Pie is called safe. Seriously, Gagne must've gotten tangled up in his pants trying to get over there. Pie was shaken up a bit on the play, but I think just from the shear force of Fielder's tag to his mid-section. Mike Fontenot hits for Wood. Some guy in the crowd is clutching a Cubs garden gnome. Finally the home plate ump walks out and tells Gagne to clean himself up a bit, ordering him to tuck in his jersey. Fontenot grounds out to second and we go to extras after this game looked lost.

Cubs 3, Brewers 3

10th inning

Bob "Don't call me Bobby" Howry works the 10th. Craig Counsell, who will never go away, rips a double to the left-center gap. Kendall bunts him over to third. Now Howry drills Weeks right in the hands, which can't feel good. Weeks throws his bat in disgust and he's apparently not happy about getting twice plunked. Gwynn flies out to center to score Counsell with the go-ahead run. Fielder punches a single through the shift and Weeks takes third. Braun pops up behind the plate. Soto goes back and then drifts towards the Cubs dugout where the ball falls to the ground, avoiding anyone's glove. Brenly says someone's got help him out with the wind blowing all over the place. Braun sends one down the right-field line and Fukudome grabs it up against the padding for the third out.

Brewers 4, Cubs 3

David Riske is the Brewers' new pitcher. Theriot grounds out to short. Soriano pops out to Kendall behind the plate. Lee flies to shallow center. Gwynn was playing way deep and has to come way in but makes a sliding catch to end the game.

Final: Brewers 4, Cubs 3

Well, the Cubs nearly made it really exciting but ultimately spoil a tremendous debut by Kosuke Fukudome, or as the board has anointed him "F-Bomb," with a bullpen meltdown and 4-3 Opening Day loss. Thanks for reading, everyone. I'll be here all week. Dinner time.


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