Kerry Wood knew there were only a few things that could happen Tuesday night when he faced Milwaukee slugger Prince Fielder with a one-run lead in the ninth, the tying run on third and two men out.
Fielder already had hit two home runs, including one off Ryan Dempster that sailed across Sheffield Avenue.
"I threw him as many fastballs as I needed to and he worked the count full," Wood said. "It was either I was going to walk him or he was going to hit it out of the park or pop it up or strike out."
Wood completely fooled Fielder with an 81-m.p.h. pitch he referred to as a "slurvy slider," getting him to take a called third strike to end a pulsating 5-4 victory for the Cubs.
"That's the way you want it—mano a mano," said Dempster, who earned his career-high 16th victory.
With the triumph, the Cubs pushed Milwaukee nine games back in the National League Central race and a half-game behind the New York Mets in the wild-card playoff race while reducing their own magic number to four.
"We just figure if we keep winning ballgames, good things will come for us," Dempster said. "Don't get caught up in the standings or numbers or anything like that. Just come to the ballpark and try to win every day. This is big."
Dempster thought about a no-hitter all day, after Carlos Zambrano's Sunday and a one-hitter by Ted Lilly and the bullpen Monday.
"I have a lot to live up to," he said.
He wasn't quite as dominating as Zambrano or Lilly, but he allowed only two runs over six innings with nine strikeouts to earn his 13th victory at Wrigley Field this season. Sabathia lost for the first time in 10 decisions since Milwaukee acquired him from Cleveland.
Alfonso Soriano hit another home run and Mark DeRosa and Reed Johnson made diving catches to help the Cubs take the series opener as Brewers interim manager Dale Sveum lost in his first game since replacing the fired Ned Yost.
The Cubs seem rejuvenated since Lou Piniella's postgame rant on Sept. 9 in St. Louis, playing like the team he thought they were. If they beat Ben Sheets on Wednesday night, the Brewers will be gasping for air.
"CC and Ben Sheets are two of the best pitchers in the game," DeRosa said. "But we have our confidence back and a little bit of our swagger. Our [starters] have thrown awesome and our bullpen is well-rested. I still say it all starts with Soriano. When he's playing well and having fun, our team seems to feed off him."
Soriano doubled and homered off Sabathia, though he broke his recent promise to Piniella in the first when he stood and admired a line shot off the base of the left field wall that had no chance of going out. Nevertheless, Derrek Lee's double off the outstretched glove of Mike Cameron brought Soriano home with the first run, and Aramis Ramirez doubled home a pair in the third.
Dempster cruised through the first four innings before escaping a bases-loaded jam in the fifth and serving up Fielder's two-run street shot in the sixth. Soriano's homer in the seventh preceded Fielder's center-field shot off Carlos Marmol in the eighth, but Henry Blanco's pinch-RBI single made it 5-3.
After giving up a ninth-inning run, Wood faced Fielder with the game on the line, just as he faced Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols in recent ninth inning matchups. After seven straight fastballs, Wood shocked everyone in the ballpark with the slider that froze Fielder in his tracks.
"Woody dropped a nice 3-2 hook on him and it surprised [Fielder]," Piniella said. "But I'll tell you what—he was taking his cuts."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun