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WSH@CHC: Dempster fans 10 over 7 2/3 frames

CHICAGO -- Kerry Wood didn't complain about home-plate umpire Dana DeMuth's calls. You don't have an advantage even if it is Opening Day and you're trying to give manager Dale Sveum a win in his debut game, or support Ryan Dempster, who struck out 10 over 7 2/3 innings.

"It comes down to making one pitch, and I didn't make it," Wood said.

The Nationals tied the game in the eighth on a bases-loaded walk issued by Wood to Jayson Werth, and Ian Desmond delivered a RBI single in the ninth, his third hit of the game, in a 2-1 victory Thursday over the Cubs, spoiling the festivities in front of 41,176 at Wrigley Field.

"We want to win every day we're out there, but especially Opening Day in front of all the great fans," Dempster said. "When you're playing close games, you realize how fast things can change. I feel for Woody in that situation, I feel for Carlos [Marmol], because I've been in both those seats before. I know it's not a fun feeling, and I know they're champing at the bit to get this day over with and get back out there [Saturday]."

The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the fourth on Marlon Byrd's single, which was all Dempster seemed to need. He gave up two hits over his 108 pitches in his fourth career Opening Day start, his second with the Cubs. Desmond singled on Dempster's first pitch, and the Nationals did not get another hit until Desmond singled with one out in the eighth.

Dempster was lifted with one on and two outs in the eighth, although not without sharing a laugh with Sveum.

"[Dempster] said, 'Yeah, it's not a bad move,'" Sveum said. "He said, 'I think if it's a calm day, [Ryan] Zimmerman would have had 900 feet of home runs."

Wood took over and walked the next two batters to load the bases, then walked Werth to drive in the game-tying run. The questionable call came on an 0-2 pitch to Werth.

"[Catcher Geovany Soto] set up off the plate," Wood said of the pitch. "It was a purpose pitch -- either get him to chase it or get a [strike out] there. I don't think [DeMuth] missed anything that cost us."

In the Nationals' ninth, Chad Tracy doubled off the right-field wall off Marmol (0-1), and pinch-runner Brett Carroll then scored on Desmond's single. Tracy's hit turned right fielder David DeJesus around. This was DeJesus' first game at Wrigley, and the wind made it tricky, blowing in at 18 mph from the northeast.

"I got taught all game about the wind," DeJesus said. "Who knows what that wind is going to do? It's going to kill a ball out there. It was a good lesson out there today."

Wood, the elder statesmen on the team, beginning his 12th season with the Cubs, didn't blame the wind or cold.

"It's probably the best Opening Day conditions I've been part of in a while," he said. "No excuses. I didn't get it done today."

Dempster did. He took the loss on Opening Day last year, walking six, and wanted some redemption.

"He was incredible," Sveum said of the right-hander. "His command of his fastball, his split, his cutter, his slider, everything was tremendous. I know he was ready to prove everybody wrong about last year and getting the Opening Day start as well, and he did a good job."

Dempster had to escape a couple jams in the first and third. In the latter inning, the Nationals loaded the bases and Dempster struck out Adam LaRoche, and then Werth flew out to right.

"I just tried to attack the zone," Dempster said. "You pitch to the elements. Ryan Zimmerman hit two home runs off me today and Mother Nature brought them back in the ballpark. That's part of pitching here. You can have that advantage some days, and really have it as a pitcher. I just tried to keep pumping in the strike zone and stay aggressive as possible and put pressure on them to swing the bats."

Sveum, named the Cubs 52nd manager last Nov. 18, wanted the team to carry its solid spring into the regular season, despite the 40-degree drop in game-time temperature between Mesa, Ariz., and Chicago. There was no pregame pep talk.

"I don't think you need to say anything on Opening Day," Sveum said.

It was tough to muster anything against Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals phenom making his first Opening Day start and first career start at Wrigley. The right-hander gave up five hits and walked one over seven innings, striking out five.

"It was just awesome getting a chance to pitch in Wrigley Field on Opening Day," Strasburg said. "It's just a lot of fun going out there being in somewhat of a hostile crowd. At the same time, the fans know the game. Just think about all the Hall of Famers who played here. It's an honor."

Sveum did stress baserunning in Spring Training and had Alfonso Soriano running in the fourth -- he was caught stealing at third -- and tried to score the tying run in the ninth on a contact play. Pinch-runner Joe Mather was at third, taking over for Ian Stewart, who had tripled. Brad Lidge was pitching and Jeff Baker hit the ball to Zimmerman at third, who made the play at home.

"You're going, and Mather is the best on the team at it," Sveum said. "It's unfortunate [Zimmerman] didn't have to move a little left or right. That's the gamble you're taking. The odds of getting a hit with two outs and a guy like Lidge throwing sliders every pitch, I'll take my chances on a ground ball being hit one step to the left, one step to the right of the fielder, and we score and tie the game up there."

Instead, it was a loss. The Cubs begin this season as underdogs in the National League Central.

"It's a big challenge and it's kind of a thorn in your [backside] and you want to prove people wrong," Sveum said. "It's an advantage most of the time."

Maybe Matt Garza had the right approach. Saturday's starter decided to put some music on in the clubhouse after the game. After all, there are 161 to go. Comments