NL Central champ's reserves top Cards

Monday, September 22, 2008

CHICAGO -- A day after the Chicago Cubs clinched the NL Central, Ryan Dempster was surrounded by reserves when he took the mound for the regular-season home finale at Wrigley Field.

And that made his team-best 17th victory even more enjoyable after the Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 5-1 on Sunday.

"It's fun to see some guys who haven't had a chance to play a lot do some things. Get some first hits and come up with some RBIs," Dempster said.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella used only one regular in his lineup Sunday, but promises to go back to his starters in the final week because the Cubs are playing two wild-card contenders, the Mets and Brewers.

Either way, Dempster says, the Cubs aren't going to relax. And they're still closing in on home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

"We want to win every game we can. I think going into the playoffs, you want to have some kind of mojo going," Dempster said. "You want to be playing good baseball and you don't want to let up. Today was a nice off day for a lot of guys, but at the same time, we'll be back at them tomorrow."

Dempster (17-6) worked five innings, giving up six hits and a run. The only regular in the lineup was slumping Kosuke Fukudome, who hit leadoff so he could get more at-bats and try to get out of his funk. Fukudome had two hits and also made a strong throw from right field to cut down a run.

Chicago's Casey McGehee got his first major league hit and had two RBIs off St. Louis starter Braden Looper (12-14). The Cardinals started the day six games back in the NL wild-card race.

The Cubs (94-60) are one win away from securing home-field advantage in the NL. And that could mean a great deal since they were 55-26 at Wrigley Field this season.

"It was important to win today's ball game in that we get one step closer to home-field advantage," Piniella said.

"The kids produced and swung the bats, and we had some athleticism on the field."

McGehee had an infield roller for his first big-league hit and added a sacrifice fly and an RBI single.

"Pretty cool. I wasn't really sure how it was going to go," said McGehee after his career start. "I'm sure when they bought their tickets [they didn[']t] come thinking they were going to watch us play. ... I was just trying to make sure that we gave a good effort to try and get Dempster another win."

Looper said it was strange facing the Cubs without their big stars.

"It's not tougher in the sense that Derrek Lee and those guys aren't in the lineup," Looper said. "It's not easier or harder, just different."

Chicago broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth when Felix Pie tripled and scored on McGehee's sacrifice fly to center by just beating Skip Schumaker's strong throw to catcher Jason LaRue, who blocked the plate. When home plate umpire Chad Fairchild ruled Pie safe -- replays were inconclusive -- it brought an argument from both LaRue and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.

"It just looked to me that the way LaRue was set up he had the plate blocked," La Russa said. "I don't know how [Pie] he got to it. ... So that was one play, but they beat us 5-1."

Fukudome's throw to catcher Koyie Hill got Cesar Izturis at the plate in the top of the fifth. Izturis singled, stole second and tried to score standing up on Schumaker's single but was tagged out.

The Cardinals scored in the first when Schumaker singled, Ryan Ludwick followed with a double and Albert Pujols hit a sacrifice fly to deep center.

Chicago tied it in the third on back-to-back singles by Fukudome and Ronny Cedeno and an error on St. Louis second baseman Felipe Lopez, who threw wide to second in an attempt to start a double play.

Four Cubs relievers combined to allow just one hit over the final four innings.


* Piniella said he wouldn't set his playoff rotation until the Cubs find out who they will be playing.

* Dempster threw 67 pitches. He finished the regular season 14-3 at Wrigley Field, the most home wins by a Cubs pitcher since Fergie Jenkins set the club record with 15 in 1967.

* Chicago reliever Chad Gaudin, who hadn't pitched since Aug. 29 because of a sore back and wasn't with the team for the clincher Saturday, worked the seventh inning.

* Looper surrendered nine hits and four runs in six innings.

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