HOUSTON—Sean Marshall admitted he was sweating a bit in the ninth inning Wednesday night in Minute Maid Park, but he was wasn't alone.
With Ryan Dempster on the mound, the Cubs clinging to a one-run lead over Houston and the tying run on third base with one out, the entire Cubs Nation was sweating, including Dempster.
"I was nervous out there," Dempster said. "I was scared of what might come crashing down if I blew that one."
Dempster stepped up this time, preserving a 1-0 victory for Marshall and the Cubs.
Marshall pitched seven scoreless innings in his best outing of the season, outdueling Roy Oswalt to improve to 5-7. He escaped several jams, stranding 10 runners, and showed poise when it mattered the most.
"We definitely wanted to win that one," the rookie left-hander said. "Dempster did the job and, hopefully, will get his new saves streak going."
Bob Howry pitched a perfect eighth inning before Dempster came on in the ninth to post his 13th save. In his first outing since giving up the game-winning, ninth-inning home run to A.J. Pierzynski on Saturday at Wrigley Field, Dempster gave the Cubs yet another scare.
He started out the ninth by walking pinch-hitter Orlando Palmeiro on four pitches, all well out of the strike zone. What was going through his mind?
"Don't do that again," Dempster said.
He proceeded to strike out Mike Lamb on a split-fingered fastball before Craig Biggio singled past Dempster's glove into center field, sending pinch-runner Willy Taveras to third. But Chris Burke hit a foul popup to catcher Michael Barrett for the second out and Morgan Ensberg then hit into a force play at second as the Cubs let out a sigh of relief.
"That was huge," Dempster said. "Those are the kinds of things that give me confidence and get you right back in it. It wasn't how I drew it up but the bottom line is winning ballgames."
Oswalt had won four of his last five starts against the Cubs dating back to Aug. 27, 2004, the infamous game in which Kent Mercker called the press box to complain that announcers Chip Caray and Steve Stone were lavishing Oswalt with too much praise.
Todd Walker's RBI double off Oswalt in the fifth snapped a scoreless tie, but the Cubs couldn't add on. They left runners on second and third to end the fifth, loaded the bases in the sixth, and stranded Neifi Perez on third to end the seventh.
Barrett led off the ninth with a double off Oswalt, but was thrown out trying to advance to third when Lance Berkman made a diving stop of a Walker shot, righted himself and threw to third baseman Ensberg for the out.
Dempster, however, closed the door after letting the White Sox kick it open last Saturday.
"It was good for everybody's psyche," manager Dusty Baker said. "That's how you get out of slumps, by good pitching."