It's too bad that the Cubs aren't a contending team this year, because they finally have a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.
His name is Ryan Dempster, and he's probably going to wind up slotting in near or at the top of someone else's rotation fairly soon.
Dempster threw seven excellent innings against the Red Sox Friday, extending his scoreless-inning streak to 22 and lowering his ERA to 2.11, now second in the National League, and the Cubs survived another nervewracking Carlos Marmol ninth inning to shut out the Red Sox 3-0, only the third time the Red Sox have been shut out this season.
And on top of his outstanding pitching, Dempster had two hits, including his first triple in more than 10 years. He had a little help on the triple, as Adrian Gonzalez missed a diving catch on a looping fly ball into short right field. It was hit only far enough to be a single, but after A-Gon missed the catch, it went far enough for Dempster to "lumber", as Pat Hughes put it, into third with a standup triple; he scored on a David DeJesus single.
The Cubs raced out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka had a Cubs pitcher inning -- he walked the bases loaded sandwiched around a couple of out, and then Steve Clevenger ripped a double down the left-field line, scoring two runs. How many times have we seen Cubs pitchers do that this year?
But Dempster, after having a bit of a rough first inning, got out of it and gave the Red Sox almost nothing through seven. Only two of the four hits he allowed (all singles) left the infield; he gave up only one walk and had some nice defensive plays behind him, although there were also errors committed by Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney along the way.
Matsuzaka also settled down; before he was lifted for a pinch-hitter after six innings, he allowed just one hit from the third through the sixth.
And so it was the bullpens to decide the game. Usually this year, that's meant disaster for the Cubs. They didn't score off Scott Atchison in the eighth nor Mark Melancon, the former Astros hurler, in the ninth.
James Russell had a 1-2-3 eighth, throwing 17 pitches (11 strikes). Three of the first four hitters due in the ninth were lefthanded. Why wouldn't you let Russell at least start the ninth inning?
Nope. Time to give Carlos Marmol his swagger back, Dale Sveum thought, and so Marmol came in to throw the ninth, his first save situation since he had that massive meltdown and blown save May 3 in Cincinnati.
It did not begin well. He was out of the strike zone against Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but got him to ground to Luis Valbuena at third -- Valbuena made a really nice play. After a single, Valbuena negated that nice play with an error, putting runners on first and second. Marmol then got pinch-hitter Daniel Nava on a slick called third strike.
Two out! Maybe he'd do it after all!
But then, another Marmol walk, this one to Scott Podsednik, who coming into this game had exactly one walk this year in 57 plate appearances. Bases loaded, disaster coming, Sveum to the mound with Randy Wells ready to go. Wells looked at bullpen coach Lester Strode as if he were about to come into the game, but Sveum strode (ha!) off, leaving Marmol in.
The Cubs won! Ryan Dempster won! Carlos Marmol saved it! We're saved!
Well, no, no we're not. But it was a pretty good ballgame; the Cubs won despite three errors, got some great starting pitching and the weather was perfect, low humidity, temperatures in the mid-80s and a nice breeze off the lake. It wasn't a sellout -- and I'd say at least 500 bleacher tickets went unsold, because as of this morning, they were still asking $99 plus fees on the "dynamic" pricing system that really isn't very dynamic after all.
But that's a story for another day. There were some Red Sox fans in the park, occasionally letting out a "Let's go Red Sox" chant, but nothing near what the Tigers fans did the last three days; mostly, they were pretty quiet.
Ryan Dempster, if you're headed elsewhere soon, thanks for the memories, and this one will definitely go onto that list, despite this awful season.