Dempster vs. Lilly matchup falls flat

Dempster vs. Lilly matchup falls flat
April 23, 2011, 8:31 pm
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Saturday, April 23, 2011
Posted: 5:22 p.m.
By Patrick MooneyCSNChicago.com

Ryan Dempster stood alone on the mound and rubbed his eyes and adjusted his hat. It was almost as if he couldnt believe what he was watching.

Rod Barajas had just deposited an 85 mph slider into the left-center field seats, a game-tying homer in the sixth inning. The Cubs certainly didnt see this coming. Their Opening Day starter now has a 7.63 ERA.

Hes done it for too many years, manager Mike Quade said. You believe hes going to get himself back in sync.

Saturdays pitching matchup between Dempster and Ted Lilly didnt really live up to the hype. Ultimately, the Cubs came back to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 10-8. But competing against one of his best friends didnt exactly bring out the best in Dempster.

Dempster threw three sliders that wound up in the bleachers and was charged with seven runs on nine hits. A 5-1 lead evaporated on his watch. Hes now given up eight home runs in 30.2 innings this season.

The good news for Dempster was that Lilly didnt pitch any better.

I wish we both could have hadwell, actually, I dont really wish (Lilly) had better results, Dempster said. I wish I could have done a better job, but at the end of the day, we won the game, and thats all that matters. Its about Ws for our team.

Lilly didnt know what sort of reaction hed get at Wrigley Field. In the end, there were no loud cheers or boos, just a kind of indifference.

The buzz should have been back 63 degrees and sunny for a marquee opponent. There was a standing-room-only crowd of 41,161 and Arcade Fire singing the seventh-inning stretch.

The response wouldnt have really mattered, because Lilly was always harder on himself than everyone else. But as Lilly walked off the mound in the fifth inning, the fans essentially shrugged their shoulders.

Lilly never lit up the radar gun, but found a way to survive by changing speeds, creating angles and locating his pitches with pinpoint precision. But this time he didnt get by with guts.

Across the past four seasons only two pitchers in the National League Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain accounted for more quality starts than Lillys 84.

That reliability helped Lilly win many friends in the Cubs clubhouse, but its a changing place. Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney who were unknowns when Lilly signed that 40 million contract in the winter of 2006 essentially stole the show.

Combined the new middle-infield combination went 7-for-10 with six RBI and four runs scored. They chased Lilly, who gave up five runs on 11 hits and lasted only 4.1 innings.

They bring a lot of energy, especially at the top of the lineup, Dempster said. They bring a different aspect we havent had in the last couple years speed.

At times like this, Dempster leaned on Lilly. They drove each other to get better. Now its time to go back to the drawing board.

Im just going to continue to work hard (and) push through this, Dempster said. Ive been there before and Ill be there again.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.