The more things change, the more they stay the same for the Cubs. A $300 million off-season spending spree, the hire of all-world manager Lou Piniella and the breaking news that billionaire Sam Zell will buy the Tribune Company, only to sell the Cubs at season’s end all had little impact Monday, as the Cubs picked up where they left off last year, dropping a lackluster season opener 5-1 to the Reds.

Carlos Zambrano struggled again in his third consecutive opening day start, serving up two bombs to Reds’ slugger Adam Dunn, while walking five and hitting a batter over five innings of work to take the loss.

To add injury to insult, upon hearing that the Cubs would be sold, lame-duck general manager Jim Hendry immediately ceased negotiations with Zambrano on a promised contract extension, and began searching for new jobs on

Zambrano denied that stalled contract talks had any impact on his poor outing.

“Look, I’m going to get a huge long-term contract somewhere,” he said. “If it’s not for the Cubs, maybe it’ll be with a team that knows what it takes to win a championship.”

The lone Cub highlight was an unearned run in the fifth thanks to Reds center fielder Ryan Freel’s Jacque Jones impersonation. He sailed a throw 50 feet up the left field line, allowing Matt Murton to score after he had advanced from first to third on a Derrek Lee single.

Number of the game: 25
Cubs players still suffering from severe hangovers at game-time Monday, after weekend exhibition series in Las Vegas that closed out Spring Training.

heckler editorial staff