Luckily for Dempster and the Cubs, Lilly was equally bad (4 1/3 IP, 11 H, 5 ER), as the Cubs came back for a 10-8 victory. Dempster was solid early but fell apart in the sixth, ultimately going 5 2/3 innings while giving up seven earned on nine hits and three walks. He also allowed three home runs, bringing his season total to eight. (He is allowing an astounding 2.35 homers per nine innings pitched.)
Manager Mike Quade was quick to explain Dempster’s struggles.
“He’s just not executing his pitches, I think it’s that simple,” Quade said of his Opening Day starter, “That slider that’s so good to him, he’s just not executing it on a regular basis. He’s done it for too many years and you believe he’s gonna get himself back in-sync.”
Dempster agreed his problems stem from execution and the opposition taking advantage of his bad location. Dempster acknowledged that his slider has often been working early in games this season, but after a few innings, he seems to lose his feel for his go-to pitch. Dempster, who is very close to his former teammate Lilly, caught himself before he could finish a thought about wishing both he and Lilly pitched better.
“I don’t wish [Lilly] had better results,” Dempster said of his former jogging partner, “But I wish I had better results. It was good to go out there and compete, I wish I could have done a better job, but at the end of the day we won the game and that’s all that matters.”
Quade was faced with a tough decision in the bottom of the fifth with the Cubs clinging to a 5-4 lead. Dempster, who had just given up two home runs in the top of the inning, came up with two outs and the bases loaded. Quade didn’t hesitate to let the pitcher bat for himself, knowing his bullpen had been overworked the last two games -- Casey Coleman and James Russell, the starters for the two previous games, lasted only a combined 6 2/3 innings.
“If you’ve got the wind blowing in maybe it’s a different deal, but it just looked like there was so much baseball left to play,” Quade said, correctly predicting that neither offense had shut down for the day, “I can’t be going to the bullpen in the sixth inning ever day.”
Of course, Quade ended up having to go to the bullpen earlier than he wanted, as Dempster found himself in trouble once again in the top of the sixth. However, the Cubs bats were up for the task and helped their teammate out.
“You feel like you let the team down, but they go out and score five and it makes you feel better. It’s almost like the guys took care of me today,” Dempster said after he blew a 5-1 lead, “I’m just going to work hard and push through this, I’ve been there before and I’ll be there again.”
A couple of odd plays took place early in the game. In the top of the first with men on first and second and one down, center fielder Matt Kemp lined softly to shortstop Starlin Castro. Castro seemed to have an easy double play set up, as the runners were going on contact, but instead of doubling Aaron Miles off second base, Castro intentionally dropped the ball and tried to turn a 6-4-3 double play. Umpire Bill Welke correctly ruled that Castro’s drop was intentional, Kemp was ruled out on the infield fly rule and both runners returned to their bases.
In the fourth inning, Darwin Barney looked to be picked off first base, but while running back to first base during the run down, Barney had to step around first baseman James Loney, who did not have the ball. Barney reached first base safely, but it seemed as though he had run out of the baseline in doing so. However, since Loney did not have the ball at the time, he was charged with an obstruction error and Barney was awarded second base.
The Cubs were unusually aggressive on the base paths, stealing more bases in today’s game (3) than they had all season (2). But that doesn’t mean Cubs’ fans should expect the speedy trend to continue. Quade attributed the changed approach to the fact that they realized Lilly has a slow delivery and wanted to take advantage of it.