HOUSTON -- When Cubs closer Carlos Marmol shuts down the opposition, it doesn't surprise teammate Ryan Dempster.
So after Marmol thwarted the Astros' comeback attempt on Monday with 1 1/3 scoreless innings and three strikeouts to preserve a 5-4 win, making Dempster (1-2), a winner, Dempster wasn't fazed.
"I've seen him do this too many times," said Dempster. "He has a knack of getting out of innings."
Marmol earned his fourth save of the season while evening the Cubs' record at 5-5. He retired Angel Sanchez with runners on the corners for the third out in the eighth inning and struck Joe Inglett out looking to end the game with runners on first and second.
"Marmol has been really effective for them since he's been the closer," said the Astros' Bill Hall, whose pinch-hit home run off Dempster in the seventh was the beginning of the end for the hurler. "He throws pitches that are unhittable -- pitches you think are going to move that don't. He's a really tough at-bat, and we still put pressure on him in the ninth inning."
Marmol was exceptional at the end of the game. Dempster was solid for six of the 6 1/3 innings he pitched as the Cubs led, 5-0, after four innings, making it a rough night for Astros starter Nelson Figueroa (0-2), who exited the game after four innings.
"We played good. We didn't play add-on," said Cubs manager Mike Quade. "I was so happy the way our bullpen pitched."
Setup man Sean Marshall threw two-thirds of an inning.
Quade was also pleased with the top of his lineup as leadoff hitter Starlin Castro had three hits, scored three runs and stole Chicago's first base of the season.
Batting in the two-hole, second baseman Darwin Barney had two hits and two runs, reaching base four times.
"The kids played well," said Quade. "I like watching them. They feed on each other and they play with enthusiasm."
The Cubs' pitching staff collected 13 strikeouts, with Dempster getting nine of them.
Dempster was pulled in the seventh after two of the last three batters he faced homered. Sandwiched between Hall's pinch-hit solo home run and Sanchez's two-run homer -- his first major league home run in 317 at-bats -- was Michael Bourn's double that was inches from being a home run.
"It's a good win," said Dempster. "Unfortunately, I put us in a pickle."
The Astros' three-run seventh inning cut Chicago's lead to 5-4. The Astros stranded 12 runners, nine in the final four innings.
"You want to be able to take advantage of those chances, there's no doubt," said Astros manager Brad Mills, whose club fell to 2-8. "But to be able to put us in that position was great to see the guys come back.
"The guy [Dempster] that started against us tonight did a pretty good job early on, and it took us a while to make some adjustments. And when we finally made some adjustments we were already down."
Castro and Barney did the brunt of the damage for the Cubs early in the game. By the fourth inning the pair had combined for five hits and five runs. Castro was 3-for-3 at that point with three runs and the stolen base.
When Castro was finally retired on a sixth-inning strikeout, it took Wilton Lopez -- the third of Houston's six pitchers -- 13 pitches to get Castro out.
Dempster did not allow a run until the fifth inning. At one point, he retired nine straight Astros, with six strikeouts in the span. Dempster struck out the side in the third and fanned the first two batters he faced in the fourth.
"I was able to keep the ball down for the most part," said Dempster.
Dempster was at 100 pitches entering the seventh with Chicago ahead 5-1, and that is when the Astros mounted their rally. After the game, Quade defended his decision to allow Dempster to start the frame.
"He was so economical early in the game," said Quade. "He felt great and I believed in him."
Dempster survived a sixth-inning jam by enticing Inglett to ground out to second base with the bases loaded for the third out.
"He put together a really good at-bat," said Dempster. " He was 0-2, fought off some really tough pitches, worked the count. I made the pitch for him to hit the ground ball and got out of the inning. Who knows where the game would have been if you don't do that."
Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.