Dempster looks sharp as Cubs down Brewers

Ryan Dempster kept his fielders sharp by working fast. Good thing, because the Chicago right-hander needed more defensive help than the Cubs usually provide.

Dempster pitched eight shutout innings – thanks in great part to big plays by center fielder Sam Fuld and third baseman Aramis Ramirez – and the Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 2-0 on Monday night.

Fuld dove to catch Frank Catalanotto‘s sinking liner with a runner on third to end the fifth inning and Ramirez made a leaping stop of Felipe Lopez‘s shot with two on to finish the eighth. Ramirez also was the pivot man on a unique 6-5-3 double play with the Cubs playing an exaggerated pull shift against Prince Fielder in the seventh.

“They made the plays,” Brewers manager Ken Macha said. “If they go the other way, we get some runs.”

More often than not, great plays have eluded the Cubs. Expected to contend for their third straight NL Central title, they instead have been major disappointments. One big reason: They rank near the top of the league with 95 errors and 50 unearned runs allowed.

“When you work quick and throw strikes, it keeps your defense on their toes,” Dempster said. “They made some unbelievable plays behind me.”

Fuld, who jammed his thumb on his play, said afterward he wasn’t 100 percent certain he caught the ball instead of trapping it. Television replays were inconclusive.

“Off the bat, I didn’t think I had a chance,” said Fuld, a fan favorite for his hustle even though he has yet to drive in a run in 58 big-league games over parts of two seasons.

“Even when I was 10 feet away from it, I didn’t think I could get to it. I just laid out and it was enough. I take a lot of pride in defense. I try to contribute however I can.”

Derrek Lee hit his seventh homer in 10 games for the Cubs, who improved to 9-4 in September but remain well out of the playoff picture.

“We’re just trying to have as much fun as we can down the stretch,” said Dempster (10-8), who allowed four hits, walked one and struck out four to join John Smoltz as the only pitchers to follow three 20-save seasons with two 10-win seasons as a starter.

Carlos Marmol worked a hitless ninth for his 13th save in 17 opportunities.

Dempster, 11-3 all-time against the Brewers, had to be good to outpitch Jeff Suppan (6-10), who gave up three hits and walked four over seven innings.

Suppan’s one mistake was a 2-1 breaking ball in the fourth inning that Lee hit into the first row of the right-field bleachers. Lee has a career .431 average and five homers in 51 at-bats against Suppan.

“He’s a very good hitter and he’s gotten me a number of times,” Suppan said. “I kept it close. It was just one of those games.”

The Brewers have scored two, one and zero runs in Suppan’s last three outings.

Lee has overcome a slow start to bat .332 with 30 homers and 83 RBIs in 101 games since May 16. He now has 33 home runs, his most since 46 in 2005, and everybody associated with the Cubs declared him the team MVP.

“I’ve never met a more professional guy,” Dempster said. “He’s just slugging away, and he’s a great leader by example.”

Pinch-hitter Mike Fontenot led off the eighth with a double off David Weathers, advanced on a sacrifice and scored on Kosuke Fukudome‘s sacrifice fly.


Macha said the team was still “evaluating” RHP Mark DiFelice, who strained his right shoulder Sunday. … Brewers LHP Manny Parra is still bothered by neck spasms that drove him from a start last week, and Macha said he’s “iffy” for his scheduled turn Friday against Houston. … Cubs reliever Angel Guzman, out since Wednesday with an arm injury, could return before this four-game series ends Thursday. … Fukudome is batting .146 in September.