It was an abnormal start to an otherwise normal Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
Ryan Dempster walked around the clubhouse with a case of Red Bull energy drink, placing individual cans on the seat of every player, while Joe Borowski cooled off bleacherites with a garden hose.
Everyone needed a little boost on a hot and steamy Chicago afternoon, especially with the Cubs facing a possible sweep at the hands of Toronto and Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay facing unproven right-hander Sergio Mitre.
But it was Mitre who gave the Cubs a much-needed shot in the arm, throwing seven shutout innings and driving in the first run of a 2-0 win over Toronto.
"I think it's about time," Mitre said. "I've been up here a couple of times already, so I'm sure I can get it done. It's about time I start doing it, start being more consistent."
Mitre began the day with a 6.88 earned-run average in his first two starts since joining the rotation from Triple-A Iowa. He struck out six and walked one while balancing his record at 1-1.
The Blue Jays were hitless until Aaron Hill reached on a chopper to third with one out in the fifth. The only hit to the outfield off Mitre was Reed Johnson's single in the sixth.
Of the 23 official at-bats against Mitre, Johnson's hit was the only ball that cleared the infield.
"It was Sergio's day," manager Dusty Baker said.
The Cubs improved to 31-27, ending a stretch of 20 games in 20 days before an off day on Thursday. Next on tap are the world champion Boston Red Sox in a three-game series starting Friday that figures to be wild.
"I saw the Barnum&Bailey trucks pulling up out front," Dempster said. "It's going to be pretty nuts, that's for sure."
Beating a pitcher of Halladay's stature was as good a way as any for the Cubs to get ready for the Red Sox. He had allowed only two earned runs over his previous 39 innings, an 0.46 ERA during that stretch.
Todd Hollandsworth's double leading off the third set up the first run; he scored when Mitre lined a double down the left-field line. With two outs and Mitre on second, Corey Patterson singled him home for the final run of the day.
Hollandsworth, playing right field for Jeromy Burnitz, went 2-for-3. He's getting more playing time of late as Baker tries to get him out of his early-season slump.
"Whoever thought it would have been this long?" Hollandsworth said. "But, those things considered, you go through it. Stuff stinks, but you have to get yourself out of it. That's the name of this game."
Mitre ran into trouble only once, when a two-out walk in the fifth put two runners on. He calmly induced Ken Huckaby to ground to third, ending the threat.
Michael Wuertz pitched a scoreless eighth and Dempster struck out three in the ninth while putting the tying runs on base.
Dempster has converted seven straight saves after being booed off the mound at Wrigley when he blew his first save opportunity against the New York Mets on May 11.
"I don't look at it as being in a groove," he said. "I just go out there and try to make pitches, get ahead of guys and finish them off."
Dempster's value goes much further than what he can do on the mound. He also keeps things loose in the clubhouse, making for a much more relaxed atmosphere than the one that existed only a month earlier.
The only remnant of the LaTroy Hawkins era is a child's drawing of Hawkins that remains on the wall near his old locker, next to Hawkins' name spelled backward.
Asked after Wednesday's game if his teammates had drunk any of the Red Bull Dempster had set out for them in his pregame ritual, Dempster conceded he wasn't actually paying attention.
"But, hey," he said. "It worked."
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