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The Cubs won 4-1 Saturday over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field. Yet that only lifted their season record to 35-52, still a distant fifth in the National League Central, although no longer challenging for the worst mark in baseball. With the new Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer baseball brain trust more eager than ever to put its indelible stamp on the Cubs—and clear out whatever salable materials were left by Jim Hendry—Saturday was widely seen as a showcase for starting pitcher Ryan Dempster, if not left fielder Alfonso Soriano, ahead of the July 31 deadline for unrestricted trades.
If it was Dempster's last start with the Cubs, he went out in style. He threw a lot of pitches in the first inning, then more or less settled down. He hung a few split-finger fastballs, but got away with them, and left after six innings with the Cubs up 4-0. He got credit for the victory, his fifth straight, and extended his scoreless-innings streak to 33, going back to an awful start at the end of May against the San Diego Padres, when he was still winless for the season going back to last August. It's the Cubs' longest scoreless streak since Ken Holtzman also went 33 straight in 1969. What a turnaround.
The Cubs narrowly avoided a more disastrous turnaround in the ninth. Carlos Marmol came on, and immediately gave up a leadoff double and then a walk to bring the tying run to the plate with no outs. Suffering from deja vu in regards to Marmol's early season struggles, fans booed. The next batter, Geoff Blum—remember him, White Sox fans?—hammered one to right field, but Reed Johnson ran it down and caught it just before he crashed against the concrete wall behind the ivy. He got up and got the ball back to the infield before runners could advance. Rookie phenom first baseman Anthony Rizzo then snagged a grounder on the next batter, and started a 3-6-1 game-ending double play, with Marmol himself making a nice stretch in covering first.
Dempster makes attractive trade bait—and the Cubs' record for consecutive scoreless innings is probably out of reach anyway, at Ed Reulbach's 44 in 1908—but as for Soriano he's not likely to go anywhere, even after his two-homer, five-RBI game Friday. In the fourth, he taketh away, then gaveth, making a nice if awkward leaping catch in the well in left field, then getting alligator arms on a drive down the left-field line along the wall by the next batter, who was credited with a double. At the plate, Soriano singled and scored, but also struck out twice on high fastballs. The multimillions left on his contract make him difficult to deal, as does his tendency to succumb to good pitching and astute scouting. (Remember the 2007 and 2008 playoffs, Cubs fans?) Wrigley Field organist Gary Pressy didn't forget Fonzie's previous heroics, however; he played "Yesterday" when Soriano first came to the plate Saturday.