Athletics 6, Cubs 5: Someone Stand Up In Relief. Please.

PHOENIX, Arizona -- This was going to be a happy recap, telling you how the Cubs came from behind, using the long ball, to defeat the Oakland Athletics.

Instead, two of the pitchers supposed to be among the most reliable in the 2011 bullpen failed, and the A's had a walkoff, 6-5 win over the Cubs.

That really isn't fair to Kerry Wood and Sean Marshall, actually. Wood had a ball kick off his foot that could have been an easy out; if he gets that out, the next two batters popped up and the inning would have been over. Instead, after the two popups, another single scored a run, then Wood got squeezed by plate umpire Gerry Davis, issuing a walk, and had to get yet another ground ball to end the inning.

Marshall's ninth inning, with the Cubs leading by two, should have been over just as quickly. The first batter, Eric Sogard, hit an easy fly ball to left field. Fernando Perez, supposedly good defensively, dropped it. Now, it's impossible to know how the rest of the inning would have played out, but after a single and a fly ball scored one run, Marshall gave up three straight hits, including a game-winning double to Conor Jackson.

Seriously, I think Marshall and Wood will be fine. It just wasn't their day today.

Before that, the Cubs got a fine six-inning outing out of Ryan Dempster, who made one mistake, allowing a two-run homer to Kurt Suzuki after a single by Hideki Matsui. Other than that, he allowed only two other singles, gave up no walks, and struck out three. John Grabow even had a scoreless inning in his first outing since Feb. 27, but don't get too excited -- he gave up a line-drive single to Matsui and all three outs he recorded were on long fly balls.

And the Cubs, trailing 2-0 after Gio Gonzalez was even better than Dempster in six innings, came back in the seventh. Geovany Soto led off the seventh with his first homer of the spring, and after Gonzalez walked Carlos Pena (on another close pitch -- Davis was squeezing both sides), Bob Geren yanked him for Brad Ziegler. Alfonso Soriano slammed Ziegler's first pitch about 430 feet to dead center field for a two-run homer, his second of the spring. Reed Johnson hit a two-run homer in the eighth, his first since returning to a Cubs uniform, and given that Johnson is hitting .167 and Perez .174, and Reed's playing better defense and Fernando has options, I suspect Perez is headed to Iowa.

The game was a sellout of 8,425, though there were scattered empty seats throughout, and the crowd seemed at least 35-40% Cubs fans, many dressed in green Cubs garb; the Cubs also wore green caps to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

A note for Cubs concessionaire Ovations: Cactus Sports, a small retail operation located near the ASU campus in Tempe, had a table set up with some of their spring training merchandise, and they were handing out "buy one ST item, get one 50% off". With the game over in a fairly snappy 2:29, I headed over to Mill St. in Tempe after the game and bought two spring training items (plus a 20-ounce bottle of Diet Coke) for less than I would have paid for one item in Mesa. If you're in the Phoenix area, or headed this way, and want good quality, inexpensive spring training Cubs souvenirs, go to this store. No, they didn't pay me for this plug; it's just a better deal. And the guy behind the counter was a Cubs fan.

Tomorrow, Carlos Zambrano will take the mound in Mesa to face the Reds' Sam LeCure, who is actually a candidate for Cincinnati's bullpen. Carlos Silva is also supposed to see action tomorrow, which may be an indication they want to see if he can handle bullpen duty.

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