Cubs escape opener vs. Dodgers
Backed by Lee's 250th homer, Dempster walks tightrope for win
CHICAGO -- The Cubs not only returned home, they also returned to the familiar feeling of winning at Wrigley.
Derrek Lee hit his 250th career home run and Aramis Ramirez added a solo shot to back Ryan Dempster and propel the Cubs to a 3-1 Memorial Day win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday.
The Cubs snapped a two-game losing streak and remained the only team in baseball yet to lose three in a row this season. They improved to 20-8 at home after losing two straight series on the road, at Houston and Pittsburgh.
"You should feel good about playing at home, and you should feel good about your chances when you're at home," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "It's an old adage, but you play really good baseball at home, and you play .500 or slightly above on the road, and you're going to have a really good season. We've played well, and let's hope to continue to play well."
Dempster (6-2) constantly worked out of jams to grind out a line of one earned run on seven hits, three walks and three strikeouts before giving way to a taxed Cubs bullpen.
"I would have liked to have gone deeper, but unfortunately I ran my pitch total up there," said Dempster, who threw 117 pitches, 71 for strikes. "I was glad I was able to get seven innings in and to be able to give the bullpen a rest."
Ramirez connected in the eighth for his ninth home run of the year. Bob Howry faced a bases-loaded, one-out dilemma in the eighth but pitched out of it. Kerry Wood relieved Howry and tallied his 11th save of the season.
In the Cubs' first, Lee lifted a 1-1 offering from Chad Billingsley (4-6) into the second row of the left-field bleachers. The two-run shot scored Ryan Theriot, who had worked a walk.
Lee's team-leading 12th home run extended his hitting streak to seven games following a 2-for-25 slump. He shrugged off the 250 milestone.
"I don't think that's a landmark," said Lee, who has 120 home runs as Cub. "That's not a big deal. I have to play about 10 more years."
The Dodgers answered in the fifth when Matt Kemp smacked a leadoff double and scored four batters later on Juan Pierre's soft infield single. Second baseman Mark DeRosa charged and grabbed Pierre's hit on one hop but could not get the ball out of his glove to throw out the speedy left fielder.
Dempster ran into more trouble in the sixth. Russell Martin and Jeff Kent both singled, and Kemp walked to load the bases. Dempster could have flashed back to his last start, when he blamed poor "inning management" after giving up a grand slam to Houston's Hunter Pence in a 4-2 loss. On Monday, Dempster struck out Blake DeWitt, and Luis Maza flew out to right to end the threat.
"It was nice to battle out there," Dempster said. "Today, it seemed like I had the leadoff guy on base every inning and had to try to work around it. I just kept trying to make pitches and get some outs."
Howry fought off the Dodgers' final rally in the eighth. Kent hit a leadoff single, then one out later Kemp doubled. Howry intentionally walked DeWitt to load the bases.
Piniella had lefty Scott Eyre ready in the bullpen to face left-handed pinch-hitter James Loney, but he stuck with the right-hander. Howry rewarded Piniella by striking out Loney and forcing another lefty, Delwyn Young, to fly out to center.
Howry has lowered his ERA from 8.10 to 5.00 during May and has not given up a run in his last six outings.
"Bob's been throwing the ball better and better," Piniella said. "He's pitched in these situations many times with a lot of success. We decided to stay with him, and it turned out to be a prudent decision. Bobby, when he starts getting on a roll, and he starts throwing the ball well, he's somebody you can go to in late-game situations. He's going to give you a chance to win."
Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.