Sounds crazy, but that’s exactly what happened Sunday afternoon at Citi Field, where the Cubs beat the Mets 7-0 to end their first half on a positive note.
Despite a 33-52 record, the Cubs have won nine of their last 13 games, including four of seven on the road against NL East contenders Atlanta and New York, and escaped the cellar in the NL Central.
More important, Ryan Dempster increased his trade value with five shutout innings in his return from the disabled list, and the game lasted only 2 hours, 8 minutes, as Cubs hitters approached their at-bats like taking a pitch merited a fine.
Of the 109 pitches by Mets pitchers, only 25 were called balls.
« Just what the doctor ordered on getaway day, » said manager Dale Sveum, apparently not referring to the team psychologist. « A win, 2:08, everyone makes their flights … »
No one was complaining about the speed-dating approach to hitting. The Cubs scored four in the first off Jonathan Niese, and Starlin Castro’s three-run homer in the seventh turned it into a rout.
Dempster extended his scoreless innings streak to 27 straight, the most by a Cubs pitcher since Ken Holtzman’s 27-inning streak in 1971. He finished the first half with four straight wins and a league-best 1.99 earned-run average, the most dominating half in his 15-year career despite two DL stints.
« My ability to command the baseball this first half was as good as it has been, » he said. « Unfortunately I missed some starts. I wish I wouldn’t have because of the way I’m throwing the ball. »
Next comes the return of the Dempster trade rumors. Will he be reunited with Ted Lilly in Los Angeles, Dusty Baker in Cincinnati or Larry Rothschild in New York? Will the White Sox, Detroit or Boston reel him in?
Dempster said he’s not paying attention to the rumors because he doesn’t read the papers or watch much TV.
« When I do, it’s usually ‘Swamp People’ or things like that, » he said. « I really don’t notice a lot of the rumors. »
« Swamp People » is a show about people trapping alligators on the Louisiana bayou. Dempster, who once claimed he was studying to be a Ninja Warrior, regaled the media with a story of the time he caught an alligator with his hands. Of course he has never caught an alligator or been a Ninja, but Dempster once streaked outside of Stanley’s restaurant in Lincoln Park.
Either way, the end of the Dempster era is near. Sveum moved Dempster’s next start to Saturday instead of Friday, and it could be his last as a Cub at Wrigley Field.
« We all know the reality of this time of the year, » Sveum said. « Whether it’s Dempster or anyone else on the roster, that’s just part of the game that comes along with not having the best record in the world and other teams trying to add on, put a piece of their puzzle together.
« One thing we all know this year, basically, right now, there’s 20 teams that are capable of being in the playoffs going into the second half of the season. There’s a little bit more of a pool involved now with (the extra) wild card. »