Chicago - The Chicago Cubs brought a heavy hitter to Wrigley Field yesterday 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.
Unlike last year, when manager Lou Piniella took Carlos Zambrano out of Game 1 after six innings and 85 pitches, Dempster was given plenty of rope.
But Dempster wound up strangling himself, tying a career high by walking seven batters over 4 2/3 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 Zambrano, their enigmatic nominal ace, in a must-win Game 2 tonight.
"Most teams are going to lose a game in a series," Dempster said. "... 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."
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.