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Start The 2010 Countdown: Cubs Eliminated, But Dempster Shines In 6-0 Shutout Of Pirates

It looked for "just a hot minute", as Jack Brickhouse might have said 40+ years ago, that the Cubs would stave off elimination for another day. Ex-Cub Jason Kendall hit a one-out, three-run, game-tying homer for the Brewers against the Rockies in the ninth inning. Two innings later, though, the Rockies' Chris Iannetta hit a homer of his own, a two-run walkoff, and the Cubs' elimination number was reduced to zero.

Thus we begin "wait till next year" once again.

Thankfully, there are still a few games of Cubs baseball to enjoy for the rest of 2009 -- because you know you'll miss it when it's away for the winter -- and a few things yet to play for.

One of those goals was set by Ryan Dempster. He wants to throw 200 innings for the second straight season, and went a long way toward that goal with a masterfully pitched five-hit, 6-0 shutout of the Pirates. Dempster reached 195 innings with one start to go (on Sunday), lowered his ERA to 3.51 -- within range of the 2.96 he had last year -- and threw his first CG shutout since he was a member of the Marlins on July 3, 2001. It was the Cubs' second shutout in four games, and the first thrown by a Cubs pitcher at Wrigley Field since Jason Marquis blanked, coincidentally, the Pirates on May 9, 2007. Odd notes from that game: only one Pirate who played that day remains on the club (Ryan Doumit), and Marquis' opponent that night was current Cub Tom Gorzelanny (John Grabow, who came over from Pittsburgh with Gorzelanny, also pitched in that game).

Dempster was outstanding. Though he gave up two doubles, both leading off innings, those runners were stranded and only one other Pirate (Brandon Moss, who walked and went to third on a Delwyn Young single in the second inning) made it past first base. Dempster threw 120 pitches (81 strikes), which wasn't even his highest total of the season (he threw 121 against the Brewers in a 12-6 loss on May 9) and had the Pirates under control all night.

Meanwhile, the Cubs were taking advantage of Kevin Hart's wildness -- something he exhibited even when he was throwing fairly well in his four Cub starts before the trade to Pittsburgh -- and some shoddy Pirates defense in putting six runs on the board off Hart in the first four innings. The Pirates made three errors, all of them on what appeared to be routine plays, helping the Cubs score two unearned runs out of the six. The Cubs drew seven walks in all, four by Ryan Theriot -- who was an excellent leadoff man last night, reaching base all five times he was at bat. (That's not an endorsement of Theriot for leadoff -- I still believe the job should go to Kosuke Fukudome -- just a note that he did a good job yesterday.)

The win clinched a winning season for the Cubs with their 82nd win. That's the first time the Cubs have had three consecutive winning seasons in 37 years, since 1970-71-72. And it's the first time they have done so in a manager's first three years in 74 years, since the 1933-34-35 Cubs had three straight winning years in Charlie Grimm's first three seasons as manager. There remain other personal goals besides Dempster's 200 innings; Carlos Zambrano goes today for win #10 to finish in double figures, and Sam Fuld still seeks his first major league RBI (only two players, both 100+ years ago, had more plate appearances in a season than Fuld has now -- 103 -- without an RBI). I'd like to see Tyler Colvin get some more playing time in the final six games, too.

Last night's announced crowd was 35,308. That brought the season paid attendance to 2,989,120, so today's first-game attendance will put them past the 3 million mark for the sixth straight year. Last night's opponent, the chilly weather, and postseason chances being basically over kept the in-house count to what appeared to be about 15,000. The bleachers were about half-full (maybe 2500) and the rest of the park about one-third occupied, many of whom left after the seventh-inning stretch. The Cubs will have to make definitive moves to improve the team, and in my opinion not raise ticket prices, to keep drawing in 2010 the way they have the last three seasons.

The first game of today's split doubleheader begins at 1:05 pm CDT -- the first time a game has started at that time at Wrigley Field that I can remember. The game preview thread will be up at 11:30 am CDT.