Role reversal: Cubs turn tables on Crew
Wood gets first save for impressive Dempster; Ramirez homers
CHICAGO -- For the last three years, Ryan Dempster has made starting pitchers nervous while he closes a game. On Thursday, Dempster was the one who could barely watch the ninth inning as Kerry Wood picked up his first save.
Dempster, making his first start in two years 10 months and 30 days, and Wood reversed roles on Thursday in the Cubs' 6-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. Aramis Ramirez hit a solo homer and Alfonso Soriano, back in the leadoff spot, had two RBIs, while Wood picked up his first career save to help the Cubs avoid being swept.
"Part of me was nervous," Dempster said about the ninth, which he watched from the clubhouse. "I could watch -- a couple pitches, I turned away. It was a good situation, a lot of energy. You could feel it -- you could feel the stands rocking and hear them chanting his name.
"It was really good for [Wood]," Dempster said of the right-hander, who has been slowed by shoulder injuries. "He's come a long way. He's battled a lot of things to be where he was 10 years ago to be where he is now. It's pretty remarkable what he's done, and to bounce back from it, I'm happy for him."
Wood downplayed his first save.
"It doesn't mean anything," he said. "It's a good win for us. We needed to get a 'W' under our belts. It's nice to get the first one out of the way."
Dempster (1-0), who had been the Cubs' closer the last three seasons, was making his first start since May 4, 2005, which also was against the Brewers. On Thursday, the right-hander struck out five and gave up two runs -- one earned -- on three hits and two walks.
"I think he's more relaxed," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of Dempster, who won a spot in the rotation with a strong spring. "I think he's more focused. He's got the pitches. He's done this before. He's more experienced, and he's got more pitches to work with. I expect Dempster to pitch well for us all year."
His first game back as a starter didn't begin the way Dempster had planned. He walked Rickie Weeks, who reached third on Tony Gwynn Jr.'s double. Prince Fielder then flew out to right, and Kosuke Fukudome fired home, trying to one-hop the ball to catcher Geovany Soto. Weeks collided full-force with Soto, who was in the baseline, and knocked the catcher over.
Dempster retrieved the ball and flipped to Soto to try and get Gwynn, but the throw sailed past the catcher, and the Brewers had a 2-0 lead.
"As a starter, you can have a little blip like that but still be in the game," Dempster said. "It felt good to settle down and throw strike one and get ahead of guys."
If he was still the closer, Dempster obviously wouldn't have pitched the first, but he also probably would have been pulled after giving up two runs.
"It would've been a little different story," he said.
The Cubs tied the game in the second. Ramirez walked, reached third on Fukudome's double and scored on Mark DeRosa's single that zipped by third baseman Bill Hall. Soto then hit a sacrifice fly.
It seemed as if it had been more than two years, not two games, since the Cubs' offense got going. Ramirez connected off Dave Bush (0-1) with one out in the fifth for his first home run of the season. Soriano, who began the year batting second, drew a bases-loaded walk in the fourth to force in a run, hit an RBI single in the sixth and scored on Ryan Theriot's double.
"I felt more comfortable at home plate today," Soriano said.
Wood looked at ease in his new role. Since moving from the rotation to the bullpen, he has a 2.98 ERA in 34 relief appearances.
"I'll try to do my job," Wood said. "Obviously, it's not going to work out every time. I'll try to get comfortable in the role and just go to work."
The mental preparation is the same, Wood said. His job is to get batters out. Now, he will only be needed in save situations in the ninth.
"It's one inning, and it's an important inning," Wood said. "You just want to be sharp and do the best you can."
It wasn't a perfect 1-2-3 inning either. Wood struck out Corey Hart, got J.J. Hardy to ground out and then gave up a single to Craig Counsell. He got Jason Kendall looking at strike three to end the game.
"I was just trying to make my pitches," Wood said. "I had an adrenaline rush at the end, and I got behind a couple guys and made it more exciting than I wanted to, but I got out of it."
However, there is the matter of the music played when Wood enters the game. For some reason, the right-hander entered to "T.N.T.," a song recorded in 1975, by the Australian hard-rock band, AC/DC.
"It's not my choice," Wood said. "I'm indifferent really. I thought [organist] Gary Pressy would be on the organ, tickling the ivory. I didn't know they did songs."
He didn't have any immediate suggestions. The Cubs need to find something -- Wood expects to be busy this season.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.