Dempster seeks first win in Houston on CSN Plus

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Dempster seeks first win in Houston on CSN Plus

Monday, April 11, 2011
Posted: 10:12 a.m.
Associated Press

Although Ryan Dempster has been saddled with a loss in each of his first two starts, the Chicago Cubs right-hander seems to be headed in the right direction.

Dempster, who has recently pitched well at Minute Maid Park, again seeks his first win of the season Monday night when the Cubs open a three-game series against the Houston Astros.

Dempster (0-2, 6.59 ERA) is taking the ball in the series opener for No. 5 starter Andrew Cashner (strained right rotator cuff), who was placed on the 15-day disabled list Friday. Cashner is one of two starting pitchers Chicago (4-5) put on the DL on Friday, along with Randy Wells (right forearm strain).

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Casey Coleman was called up from the minors to take Wells' turn in the rotation on Sunday in Milwaukee. He allowed four runs in five innings, and the Cubs ended up losing 6-5, their third defeat in four games.

This stretch started Wednesday, when Dempster allowed five runs and 10 hits in seven innings of a 6-4 loss to Arizona. Although he lost again, there were some positives to take from his latest outing.

After serving up a pair of homers and permitting four walks in an opening-day loss to Pittsburgh, Dempster kept the ball in the park and didn't issue a base on balls in his second start.

"I like the way I was throwing the ball," said Dempster, who has only lost three consecutive starts once since joining the Cubs rotation in 2008 - a four-game skid April 29-May 15.

Dempster could have a decent chance of earning his first victory in Houston, where he is 2-1 with a 2.43 ERA in his last five starts.

Although he has pitched well against the Astros, Dempster hasn't had much luck. He is 2-4 in 11 starts versus Houston since 2008 despite a 3.65 ERA.

The Cubs went 7-11 against the Astros in 2010, their most losses in the season series since going 8-11 in 2002.

Houston (2-7) is coming off a 7-2 win over Florida on Sunday to become the last NL team to win its second game.

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The Astros, who averaged 3.5 runs in their first eight contests, pounded out a season-high 16 hits and the top three hitters in the batting order - Michael Bourn, Angel Sanchez and Hunter Pence - went a combined 8 for 14.

J.A. Happ, who pitched four-hit ball into the eighth inning, also contributed to the offensive outburst, driving in a pair of runs with a double.

"A real good team win," Houston manager Brad Mills said. "What a pitching performance, and then everybody in the starting lineup getting a hit. That's pretty special, when you're able to put together an attack like that, that's balanced."

Mills will now give the ball to Nelson Figueroa (0-1, 10.13), who is hoping to put a rough season debut behind him.

Figueroa was knocked around for career highs of 11 hits and 10 runs - six earned - in 5 1-3 innings of a 12-4 loss to Cincinnati on Wednesday.

The right-hander will try to bounce back against the Cubs, whom he recorded a 2.45 ERA in winning two starts against last season.

Figueroa will have to be careful pitching to Aramis Ramirez, who is batting .316 with two homers in 19 career at-bats against him.

Ramirez, who drove in three runs on three doubles Sunday, had six homers and 19 RBIs in 14 games against Houston in 2010.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series.”

Kris Bryant wasn’t the only one with World Series nostalgia Saturday afternoon at the Friendly Confines. The tens of thousands of Cubs fans losing their minds over the North Siders’ eighth-inning comeback made that very clear.

Bryant, though, was the one who provided it, first driving in the game-tying run mere moments after the visiting St. Louis Cardinals smashed open a pitchers duel with back-to-back homers off Jon Lester in the top of the eighth. Bryant then got a head starts and came around all the way from first, scoring the game-winning run on a ball Anthony Rizzo dumped into the left-center field gap so perfectly he couldn’t have thrown it there any better.

Bryant slid in — feet first — beating the throw home from ex-teammate Dexter Fowler. Cue the hysteria at Clark and Addison.

“Me, honestly, I was just trying to go up the middle. I think that’s kind of where I’ve been struggling this year is with guys on base I want to do too much. Just seeing through the middle. Bat broke and flew, I don’t know where it went, but it flew somewhere. That was huge,” Bryant explained after the game.

“And then obviously with Rizz having a good at-bat off a tough lefty. I don't know if Dexter or Tommy Pham got a good read or if they were way back at the track, but right when he hit it I didn’t see them anywhere close to it so I thought there was a pretty good chance that I could score.”

Bryant’s very presence in the Cubs’ starting lineup was the headline before the game, the “freak of nature” returning from a jammed finger after missing only one game. So of course it was the reigning National League MVP who played the biggest role, flipping the script from his sick day by being right in the middle of the Cubs’ eighth-inning explosion. It was the eighth inning where the Cardinals staged their game-defining rally Friday.

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Manager Joe Maddon went as far as saying that perhaps only Bryant could have made the play he did, scoring from first base on what went down as a Rizzo double.

“KB being able to play was the difference in today’s game,” Maddon said. “A combination of the hit and his speed. I don’t think anybody else scores on that. Maybe Jason (Heyward), possibly. (Ian) Happ, possibly. But KB is such a good base runner. He had it in his head the moment the ball was hit, and all (third base coach Gary) Jones had to do was wave his arm. You can’t underestimate the importance of one person in the lineup.

“He’s a very bright base runner. He’s shown that from the beginning. … He demonstrated that early on, and for me when a young player demonstrates awareness on the bases, man, that’s a good baseball player.”

All that talent made Bryant last season’s Most Valuable Player and one of the most important figures in the curse-breaking World Series championship.

Bryant mentioned he thought Saturday’s game-winning trip from first to home conjured memories of a similar play in Game 7 of last fall’s World Series, when Bryant went first to home on Rizzo’s base hit off Andrew Miller in the fifth inning.

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series off of Andrew Miller. It was a full count there, started early,” Bryant said. “Rizz hit it, you’ve got to give him a ton of credit, worked a great at-bat. But the head start really does help. It's something that I take pride in is my base running, surprising people. Hopefully I did that today.”

With Bryant back in the lineup Saturday, Kyle Hendricks’ return to the rotation coming Monday, a now 7-1 record since the All-Star break and a bunched-up NL Central that had four teams within three and a half games of each other entering Saturday’s action, it’s no wonder the World Series feeling is making its way back to the North Side.

All season long, fans and observers have been waiting for that switch to flip, and maybe it finally has.

The bats were thunderous on that six-game road trip out of the All-Star break, with 16 home runs helping the Cubs to back-to-back sweeps of the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves. Friday’s loss to the Cardinals provided plenty of evidence that the rest of the season might feature a knock-down, drag-out slugfest between the four NL Central contenders. All that was missing was a game that got Wrigleyville rocking.

“Probably one of our better wins of the year,” Bryant said.

That’s all without even mentioning the efforts of Lester, who was perfect until Adam Wainwright’s single in the top of the sixth. It was another stellar effort from a Cubs starting pitcher, and what was the team’s biggest problem during that sub-.500 first half — inconsistent starting pitching — certainly seems to be ironed out.

While the standings say it’s still going to be a brawl to the end with the Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs could be in a first-place tie by the end of Saturday night.

In other words, the race is on. And Bryant and the Cubs are clicking at the right time.

“It’s already Jaugust,” Maddon joked, inventing a new month out of thin air. “There’s no waiting around right now. Everybody feels the same way. We took advantage of the break, I believe. We came back with renewed energy. You don’t want to give up anything right now.”