After Ryan Dempster loaded the bases with a one-run lead and one out in the sixth inning of Monday's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, a quick glance over his right shoulder revealed no one was warming up in the bullpen.
While Dempster had already gone through four or five T-shirts and jerseys on the first humid day of the season at Wrigley Field, Cubs manager Lou Piniella decided to sink or swim with his starter.
the Cubs hung on for a 3-1 win, improving to 20-8 at home.
The faith Piniella showed in Dempster was much appreciated by the veteran right-hander and could ultimately pay dividends down the road when he gets in similar situations.
"Absolutely," Dempster said. "And part of that is earning that [trust] throughout the beginning part of the season, showing them I'm strong enough to keep going and bounce back. Not just strong enough that game, but how do I bounce back the next game?
"He knows that I'm going to go out there and continue to be aggressive. Ultimately, we wouldn't like our pitch counts to get up as high as it does, but I like to think I have as good a chance to get somebody out in a big situation as anybody. I'm glad I'm afforded that opportunity, and as long as I continue to get results, hopefully that keeps happening."
Dempster (6-2) got out of the inning by striking out Blake DeWitt—who before the at-bat was 6-for-6 this season with the bases loaded—and inducing Luis Maza to fly to right. He stranded Juan Pierre on second to end the seventh on a line drive to short by Russell Martin, and was removed after 117 pitches, having yielded one run on seven hits.
"It's a testament to Demp. He wasn't going to let us lose it," said Derrek Lee, whose two-run homer off Chad Billingsley in the first gave the Cubs a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Aramis Ramirez added a solo home run in the eighth for insurance, and Kerry Wood closed it out for his 11th save.
The Cubs got the sour taste of a 2-4 road trip out of their mouths, though they made Piniella and a crowd of 40,195 go through some stomach-churning moments along the way. Bob Howry gave up a double off the right-field wall to Matt Kemp with a runner on in the eighth, but Kosuke Fukudome played it perfectly and kept pinch-runner Chin-lung Hu from scoring.
After an intentional walk to DeWitt loaded the bases, Piniella opted to stick with Howry against left-handed-hitting James Loney instead of bringing on left-hander Scott Eyre, who has fallen behind hitters so often Piniella isn't likely to use him in such situations. After nearly serving up a grand slam that went foul, Howry struck out Loney and got lefty-hitting Delwyn Young to fly out to escape the threat.
"Bob has been throwing the ball better and better, and he's pitched in these situations a lot of times with a lot of success," Piniella said. "We decided to stay with him, and it turned out to be a prudent decision. Bobby, when he starts getting on a roll and starts throwing the ball well, he's somebody you can go to in late-game situations, and he'll give you a chance to win it."
After his traditionally bad start, Howry has compiled a 1.98 earned-run average in May. Is he back to normal ?
"When did the tradition start, by the way?" Howry asked, laughing. "I hope so. For the last couple of weeks I've been throwing good. I've worked on some mechanical stuff, and hopefully that, along with warm weather, will bring good results."
CUBS 3, DODGERS 1