Ryan Dempster threw eight straight balls to begin the game last night, resulting in back to back walks of course. The Cubs pitcher seemed very uncomfortable on the mound and looked unconfident, pacing around the pitching rubber in between pitches. Coming off of a rock bottom start in Arizona where he only recorded one out before being lifted in the first inning, everyone including Dempster himself must have been thinking “here we go again.” But he got the hit streaking Andre Either to foul off his next two pitches, and after going to a full count on the Dodgers right fielder, Dempster induced the hot hitter into a double play ground ball.
After getting out of the 1st inning jam, the Cubs starter settled down and cruised through the 5th inning. Suddenly there was a Dempster of old sighting. He was executing his pitches and hitting the desired locations around home plate for the most part. However, before the bomb in Phoenix a few days ago, Dempster had struggled with one bad inning in his starts so far in 2011. The Dodgers recorded the first run of the game in the 6th inning after Matt Kemp hit a two out single to drive in Jamey Carroll, who had led of the bottom frame with a single.
But Dempster shrugged off the lone run and struck out the side in his final inning of work in the 7th after allowing a lead off single in that frame as well. Despite not being eligible for the “W”, it would not take a rocket scientist to conclude that this was by far the best start by the Cubs Opening Day starter all season. Pessimists may point to the pitcher friendly Dodger Stadium as the reason for the great start out of Dempster after his worst start just days ago, but to be fair the Cubs pitcher was not aided by the acres of foul territory or the homer unfriendly Los Angeles night air on any of the outs. Has the Dempster we remember from the last couple seasons returned? Stay tuned.
Those of you Cubs fans that turned in early because of work or school the next day, or because you just enjoy sleeping, cannot be blamed going to bed before the Cubs game ended past midnight last night. But you did miss one heck of an ending. Carlos Pena (video courtesy of MLB.com) finally launched his first home run as a Chicago Cub, sending the ball into the right field bullpen at least 15 rows up the stands. After getting robbed in Arizona and close a couple times in the series opener against the Dodgers, Pena made sure this one cleared the short outfield wall by plenty of distance. The home run was at a clutch time as well as it served as an immediate response to the Dodgers tally just a half inning before, tying the game at 1-1. Pena is not going to hit for average, and may not even get over .200 much, but at the very least the Cubs will need some left handed pop out of him. Hopefully getting the first home run out of the way will help him relax and get going.
The Cubs offense was not able to scratch across a run in the top of the 8th inning to get Dempster the much deserved win despite a lead off single by Reed Johnson. The Cubs outfielder was bunted over to second, but the veteran made a base running mistake of trying to advance to third on a ground ball hit in front of him to the shortstop. Considering the struggles to consistently get clutch hits, the Cubs could have folded after this, but they came right back to rally in the 9th inning.
After one out, a patient Marlon Byrd and Carlos Pena were able to coax walks out of shaky Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton. With two outs, and the Cubs looking like they were going to go 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position for the game, Geo Soto (video courtesy of MLB.com) looped a blooper into medium depth right center field that was able to duck down to the ground before Dodger outfielders Kemp and Either were able to get to it. The ball ended up going all the way to the wall to allow both Byrd and Pena to score. Blake DeWitt followed with a single to drive in Soto for the insurance run before Kemp robbed Kosuke Fukudome to end the inning.