Dempster to start playoff opener for Cubs

  • Ryan Dempster is 14-3 at Wrigley Field.

    Ryan Dempster is 14-3 at Wrigley Field. Associated Press file

Published: 9/25/2008 5:59 PM | Updated: 9/26/2008 3:18 PM

NEW YORK - The world's worst-kept secret came out Thursday when Cubs manager Lou Piniella named right-hander Ryan Dempster his Game 1 starter for the National League division series.

Dempster will open Wednesday at Wrigley Field.

Piniella may have thrown convention out the window by skipping erstwhile "ace" Carlos Zambrano for the first game. But Dempster clearly has outperformed Zambrano this year, and he is 14-3 with a 2.86 ERA at Wrigley Field. Piniella tipped his hand after Wednesday night's game, in which Zambrano lasted just 4 innings.

"He deserves it," Piniella said of Dempster. "He's 14-3 at home, won more games than any other pitcher at home. He's been extremely consistent and reliable all season long."

Dempster made the switch, amid much skepticism, from closer to starter this year. Heading into tonight's start at Milwaukee, he's 17-6 with a 2.99 ERA.

"I'm excited," he said. "For me, it's an honor. I'm humbled by it. I'm excited by it. At the same time, I just want to do whatever I can to help us win that series and try to get a victory in Game 1."

Dempster clearly enjoys pitching at Wrigley Field.

"It's gone well - everything," he said. "It seems every time in my games, we score a lot of runs and make all the plays. It's just kind of snowballed. It's kind of been a place I enjoy, from running out to warm up pregame out to center field and the bleachers are going nuts and everybody behind you. It's a fun place to pitch, and I'm sure it'll be a lot of fun on Wednesday."

Piniella said he has not mapped out the rest of the playoff rotation, but he said he has confidence in all his starters, including Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Rich Harden.

General manager Jim Hendry signed Dempster coming off elbow surgery after the 2003 season with the idea of making him the team's closer. Dempster wound up with 87 saves, putting him fourth on the club's all-time list.

"I'm really happy for Demp," Hendry said. "What a terrific year he had. We've always known he's a special guy, a tremendous human being, teammate. Nobody was smart enough to predict that he would go on to pitch in the All-Star Game and win you 17-18 games and help lead us to the division. But there wasn't any of us betting against him being good."