Dempster was not himself (PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES)
It probably wasn’t the worst start of Ryan Dempster’s career, but it made little difference. The right-hander issued a season-high seven walks and served up a game-changing grand slam as the Dodgers cakewalked to a 7-2 victory over the Cubs in Game 1 of the National League Division Series Wednesday at Wrigley Field.
Dempster looked nothing like the 17-game winner he was in the regular season. By the fifth inning he had gotten into two bases-loaded jams by way of walks. Able to work his way out of one such jam in the third inning, he wasn’t as fortunate the second time around when James Loney drove a two-strike pitch into straight-away center for a grand slam to give Los Angeles a 4-2 lead they would not relinquish.
One batter later, Dempster was pulled after allowing a double to Matt Kemp. He allowed four runs and four hits total in 4-2/3 innings. He threw 109 pitches; only 57 for strikes.
After the game Dempster admitted: “I sure put myself in a tough situation.” A generous concession, to say the least.
In his briefing with reporters after the game, Cubs manager Lou Piniella was asked if he or pitching coach Larry Rothschild saw anything specifically that contributed to Dempster’s rare lack of command.
“Larry said that he was overthrowing and he couldn’t get a good rhythm out there,” Piniella said. “We talked about the importance of throwing strikes before the ballgame. I thought that would be a big key. Their guys threw strikes and ours didn’t.
“It hurts,” Piniella said.
The Cubs’ offense did little to numb the pain. After Mark DeRosa hit a two-run home run off Dodgers starter Derek Lowe in the second inning to put Chicago up 2-0, the Cubs’ bats went south from there. Chicago stranded eight on base – the latest in a growing line of postseason offensive woes that date back to last October when the club was swept in the NLDS by Arizona.
Alfonso Soriano, the Cubs’ $136-million outfielder, couldn’t have provided a more perfect blueprint for opposing pitchers looking to retire Chicago’s leadoff hitter. Soriano went 0-for-5 with a pair of strikeouts, flailing weakly at breaking balls down in the strike zone.
The Cubs’ 1 through 5 hitters went a combined 2-for-19.
“It’s only Game 1,” said Piniella. “Let’s hope we get better. We need to swing the bats, no question.”
Carlos Zambrano will start Game 2 Thursday. He’ll be opposed by Dodgers righthander Chad Billingsley in a primetime matchup. First pitch is scheduled for 8:37 p.m. CDT. All television coverage of the series will be provided by TBS.
“We need Zambrano to go out there and pitch a good ballgame for us and get us to our short relief,” said Piniella. “I thought one of the keys in this series was for the starting pitchers to go deep into the game. Today obviously that didn’t happen and their team tacked on runs on us.”
He was asked by a reporter if he foresaw any changes being made to the Cubs’ lineup in the wake of Wednesday’s loss. Piniella said: “Let’s wait until tomorrow and see.”
On the subject of Dempster’s woes, he could not explain why the Cubs’ starter seemed to get ahead of many hitters – Ramirez in the fifth inning, for instance – only to walk them later in the at-bat.
“I don’t know,” Piniella said. “I mean this guy (Ramirez) is a pretty good hitter. We were trying to make good pitches on him, but we were behind in the count to too many hitters.
“That’s not a formula to win, and we didn’t win.”