Best of all for the Cubs, Albert Pujols was standing on deck in the ninth inning, and didn't get a chance to hit.
Aramis Ramirez hit his fifth home run and rookie Felix Pie notched his first in the big leagues, both two-run shots, to lift the Cubs to a 5-3 nail-biting victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Jason Marquis (3-1) was the beneficiary. The right-hander, who beat his former teammates last Saturday in Chicago, did it again, giving up three runs on five hits -- including Yadier Molina's two-run homer in the seventh -- over 6 2/3 innings. Hopefully, the Cardinals won't hold it against him when they present Marquis with his 2006 World Series ring before Game 2 of this three-game series.
"I'm excited to get it," Marquis said. "It's something you should be proud of, even though you're with a new team."
His new team gave him plenty of run support in the fourth. Derrek Lee doubled to lead off, the first hit off Cardinals starter Anthony Reyes (0-4), and Ramirez followed with his fifth home run to go ahead, 2-1. Ramirez now has 125 home runs with the Cubs, and needs one more to tie Andy Pafko for 13th on the team's all-time list.
Two outs later, Mark DeRosa doubled and Pie belted his first homer off a 1-0 pitch from Reyes. Maybe Pie's blast can get things going for the Cubs outfielders. Going into the game, Pie, Alfonso Soriano and Matt Murton had one home run and four RBIs combined.
"It's very exciting," Pie said. "I ran the bases hard. When I touched home plate, I saw the ball was gone. This is very exciting, my first home run."
Somehow, the clubhouse kids were able to get the ball so Pie has a souvenir. Soriano remembers his first home run. So does Ramirez.
"When you hit your first home run in the big leagues, you should be excited," Ramirez said. "To hit a first home run and win, it's pretty special."
No one doubts whether Pie can catch the ball or run. Can he hit?
"I know I can hit," he said. "Everybody in this organization knows I can hit. I'm getting a chance, an opportunity to play. I feel comfortable now. I play like it's my hometown. I help my team. If I don't get a hit, I play defense, and help my team win.
"If I don't get a base hit, I keep my head up. Everybody, Ramirez, Soriano they tell me, 'If you don't get a base hit, play good defense.'"
Soriano contributed on defense. He picked up two assists, throwing out Jim Edmonds at home in the second and getting Scott Rolen at second as he tried to stretch a RBI single into a double.
This was the first time Soriano had two assists in one game, and he's the first Cubs outfielder to do so since Juan Pierre in the 18-inning game last Aug. 15 against Houston.
"He looks so much more in place in left field," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "Now what we need to do is get him hitting the ball."
The Cubs have won back-to-back games for only the second time this season; they also did so April 6-7. It came down to the wire. The Cardinals loaded the bases in the eighth, but Dempster got Adam Kennedy to hit into a force at second on a close play. Dempster also survived a scare in the ninth when pinch-hitter Scott Spiezio lined a ball just outside the right-field foul pole.
"It was more fair than I thought it was going to be," Dempster said. "It was a slider kind of breaking in, and he hit it. I thought he hit it foul, and I was watching it, and I'm like, 'You've got to keep bending here or it'll go around the pole.'"
"I had a pretty good angle on it," Piniella said, "and I knew it wasn't going to be on this side, the fair side of the foul pole. It might have hit the foul pole."
But it didn't. And the Cubs now are 1-8 in games decided by one or two runs.
"You saw Pujols on the on-deck circle," Piniella said of the Cardinals' slugger. "So did I. It was good pitching [by Dempster]."
"I'm not an idiot -- I know he's on deck," Dempster said. "But at the same time, I'm trying to focus on pitches to [Chris] Duncan. With one swing, he can tie the game up there. If I had to face Albert, I'd worry about that then."
He can wait until Saturday to think about that.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less