Opening Day 2011: Cubs, Dempster Endure Severe Case of Deja Vu Two Ways

It was a new season at Wrigley Field today -- but it felt like the same old story.

"The guy battled into a count, fouled off one 3-2 pitch and hit the next one out for a grand slam," he said. "It's not really how I drew it up."

Second baseman Neil Walker, one of a group of fine young Pirates players that still won't lift the team above .500 after two decades in the wilderness, didn't really expect to nail Dempster so grandly, either.

"I knew it was the first time (Dempster) been in trouble during the game," he said. "He had just walked Jose (Tabata) in a good at-bat. I didn't want to try to do too much, I wanted to use the big part of the field.

"He was throwing away, trying to get me out away and was successful the first two times. Just tried to grind the at-bat out, got to 3-2 and fortunately he left a pitch out over the plate."

Somehow there are endless loops afflicting the Cubs. Stuff that happened before recycles and happens again.

Like in the fifth inning Friday at Opening Day at Wrigley Field. Ryan Dempster served up a two-out grand slam to the Pirates' Neil Walker after nursing a 2-0 lead, then suddenly struggling with his control before the granny. Interestingly, a pressbox cynic mentioned the name "James Loney" right before Walker whacked the pitch into Will Clark territory beyond the right-field bleachers. And you know all too well the Dodgers'  Loney hit a grand slam against Dempster after he had lost his radar, against in the fifth inning with two out and a 2-0 lead in Game 1 of the NL Division Series Oct. 1, 2008 in Wrigley Field.

Both times the Cubs fans were subdued -- in '08 due to fear and loathing of another postseason failure, on Friday due to the constant drizzle that began emptying out the bleachers at mid-game.

"The guy battled into a count, fouled off one 3-2 pitch and hit the next one out for a grand slam," said Dempster, who never makes excuses. "It's not really how I drew it up."

Second baseman Walker did not foresee Dempster's struggles an inning earlier.

"I knew it was the first time (Dempster) been in trouble during the game," he said. "He had just walked Jose (Tabata) in a good at-bat. I didn't want to try to do too much, I wanted to use the big part of the field.

"He was throwing away, trying to get me out away and was successful the first two times. Just tried to grind the at-bat out, got to 3-2 and fortunately he left a pitch out over the plate."

The Cubs are particularly bedeviled by the Pirates, a team they beat like a drum in 2007 when they won the NL Central. Now the Buccos are getting their just revenge. They are 11-5 against Chicago since the start of the 2010 season. That's an embarrassment for the Cubs to have lost so frequently to a 105-defeat team last season.

Walker's blast was reminiscent of the bevy of left-handed "Lumber Company" sluggers who had frequent free lunches against Cubs right-handed sinkerballers in the 1970s. The likes of Willie Stargell, Al Oliver and Richie Hebner loved working the Cubs over in Wrigley Field. In one 1975 game, they beat the Cubs 22-0.

So what makes the present-day Pirates so tough on the Cubs?

"That's a good question," said manager Mike Quade. "That's the question we're trying to solve. The kid Walker is a nice player. McCutchen is who he is. We've got to figure out how to get them out better. I thought the last series we played against them last year, we were much better.

Said former Pirate Aramis Ramirez: "They got good young players. "Those two guys at the end (of the bullpen), (Evan) Meek and (Joel) Hanrahan, I don't know if there's anybody better than those two guys in the National League. Those guys throw 97, 98 (mph)."

Just goes to show you spring training does not carry over into the regular season -- either way. Dempster had allowed as many as three runs in only one of his six Arizona starts.  He's also lost four in a row against the Pirates.

Now that will be one motivated pitcher the next time the Cubs duel the Buccos. Evening-up goes both ways, too.

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