PITTSBURGH—A victory in April isn't supposed to mean as much as one win in September, but don't try to tell that to Ryan Dempster.
The Cubs right-hander earned his first victory as a starter since July 11, 2003, with a 4-3 triumph Saturday night over Pittsburgh at PNC Park, bouncing back from reconstructive elbow surgery that stalled his career.
"It was a long road back," Dempster said. "A year and a half to get back to being a starter. It's funny. You look at my last game where we lose 1-0, and today the team comes right back and picks me up huge and gets me a win, and gets us a win. That was really cool."
Neifi Perez's RBI double in the seventh snapped a 3-3 tie, Chad Fox struck out David Ross with the bases loaded to end the eighth and LaTroy Hawkins pitched a scoreless ninth to post his first save.
As usual, there was some drama at the end when Jack Wilson singled with two outs in the ninth and left-fielder Jose Macias dropped the ball, allowing Wilson to move into scoring position on the error.
Hawkins got ahead of Jason Bay with two quick strikes before he induced a groundout to short on a 1-2 pitch.
"I'm glad for 'Hawk,'" manager Dusty Baker said. "He has had a little trouble in the past with one-run games."
After walking three of the first four men he faced, Dempster (1-2) settled down and pitched six strong innings, yielding three runs on six hits with five strikeouts.
Aramis Ramirez's three-run home run off Kip Wells (0-3) in the third gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead, but the Pirates bounced right back in the bottom of the inning.
Matt Lawton's homer off Dempster cut the deficit to 3-2, and the Pirates tied it in the fifth on Rob Mackowiak's RBI infield hit to short. The moment of truth came when Glendon Rusch loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth. Fox, who gave up the game-winning hit to Bobby Hill on Friday, came up with a huge strikeout.
"That kind of win can get this team going," Fox said.
The Cubs' offense still needs a bit of a lift. Since their 23-hit attack against Arizona in a 16-6 victory on Opening Day, the Cubs are hitting .234 in their last 10 games and averaging four runs per game. Going 4-6 the first 10 games was difficult to swallow for Baker because they easily could have been 7-3.
"That's why I'm so positive about things," Baker said before Saturday's game. "We've been in every game except for [two]. That's probably what's frustrating all of us. We realize as up and down as things have been in these 10 [games], the next 10 could be doubly sweet, too, with a little something here, a little something there. Overall, we just have to pick it up on the little things."
Before Saturday's action, 14 of the 16 National League teams had records of either 6-4, 5-5 or 4-6. Only the Dodgers (7-2) have gotten off to a hot start, suggesting parity reigns.
"Other than the American League Central and the Dodgers, everybody else is kind of playing about the same kind of ball," Baker said. "So everybody probably can say the same thing about the 'little things.'
"The teams doing the most winning, like the White Sox and the Dodgers, they're getting the little things done right now. That's the difference."