Monday, August 18, 2008


When Ryan Dempster said in spring training that the Cubs would win this year's World Series, I cringed so hard I pulled a muscle. I believe the headline on my personal blog entry that day was, "DUMPSTER! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!?"

That was the last time I referred to Mr. Dempster by that ugly nickname -- and the last time I questioned his wisdom.

Since morphing from the Cubs' 2007 closer into their 2008 ace -- sorry, Carlos Zambrano, your last two starts prove you're too inconsistent to wear the crown -- Dempster has done everything in his power to make Cub fans believe this could be their year. And trust me, that's an amazing feat, akin to climbing Mt. Everest naked.

Raise your hand if you expected Dempster to be 14-5, ranking third in the National League in wins and leading the league in opponents' batting average (.210). That's where the Canadian-born righthander stands after the Cubs' 9-2 win over the Marlins on Sunday, a game in which Dempster did what has become his trademark. He battled, working his way through some pretty tight situations (of his own making), and gave his team a great chance to win.

The Cubs scored eight runs in the seventh to erase a 2-0 deficit and push Dempster within one victory of his career-high 15.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Dempster has allowed two or fewer runs in each of his last six starts and in 18 of 26 starts this season. That's pretty impressive, especially when you consider how often he seems to find himself in a jam.

"It was a grind, mentally and physically, to bear down and make pitches," Dempster, who struck out 10 Marlins over six innnings in 95-degree heat, told the Tribune on Sunday. "I just felt deep down inside that if I could keep them from scoring any more runs, we'd have a chance to come back and win it."

Dempster's feelings, apparently, are quite contagious. His body of work this season is almost a metaphor for the Cubs: You might find yourself in a bad spot, year after year after year, but that doesn't mean you can't will yourself into a good spot. Dempster is a talented pitcher, but his 'X' factor seems to be a believe in himself and his team.

By all indications, Dempster is a well-liked, well-respected teammate in a Cubs clubhouse full of team-oriented guys. His statements to the media are both humble and confident, which is a tough trick to pull off, and he always seems to back up what he says out on the field.

That's what I call a leader. An MVP -- even if he is a pitcher. And heck, why can't Dempster win the Cy Young Award this year? He certainly has enough exposure. He seems to always start the ESPN games, and I've heard him interviewed on national radio shows. His sense of humor and outgoing personality have made him a media darling. And he pitches for the Cubs, who despite playing outside the East Coast still manage to capture a whole lot of national interest.

A few more wins for "Demp," and he'll have the same statistical credentials as Brandon Webb. A few more big wins, like of the October variety, and awards won't matter. Dempster will achieve immortal status.

If Dempster's preseason prediction comes true, I think the Cubs should bring their victory parade up through the suburbs. It should go north and west through Evanston, Skokie, Morton Grove and Niles. Why, you ask? Because I grew up just a few blocks from a busy main street that connects all those communities.

It's called -- no joke -- Dempster Street.

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