Jerome Williams learned at a young age how to keep cool under pressure while surfing at Pipeline, a legendary spot in his native Hawaii.
He used those lessons on a sweltering Saturday afternoon at Busch Stadium, hanging on in 93-degree heat for six innings to lead the Cubs to a 6-5 win over St. Louis.
"The first two innings I almost passed out," said Williams, an asthmatic. "I couldn't breathe. But you can't panic. I don't panic when I can't breathe that well. Growing up in Hawaii, I used to surf a lot, and being trapped underneath the water, you learn not to panic."
The Cubs snapped a three-game losing streak, which followed a stretch where they won eight of nine, which followed an eight-game losing streak.
How can the Cubs sustain a winning streak?
"I don't know," Derrek Lee said. "But we've got to figure it out quick because we're running out of time. We just have to find a way to put it together and keep it together. We can't afford to win five, lose four, that type of thing. We've got to try winning eight, nine out of 10 to get into these playoffs."
Ryan Dempster earned his 14th consecutive save in typical fashion, putting two on with one out before Albert Pujols smoked a hanging slider straight to shortstop Neifi Perez, who made the catch and toss to second for the game-ending double play.
"I thought he got it over [Perez's] head," Dempster said. "You think lucky, sometimes you get lucky. But that's fun. That's as good as it getsfacing the best team in baseball, facing their best hitter with the winning run on first base. I hung it just low enough for him to hit a line drive rather than up in Big Mac Land."
Cards starter Matt Morris came in with an 11-3 lifetime record against the Cubs but served up home runs to Lee, Jeromy Burnitz and Aramis Ramirez, allowing six earned runs in his worst outing of the season.
Williams (3-3) faced a roster that could only be described as Busch Light. The depleted Cardinals lineup did not include Scott Rolen, who was put on the disabled list Friday with an inflamed right rotator cuff; Pujols, who strained his shoulder Friday on his near home run that was denied by Burnitz's leaping catch; and Larry Walker, who rests frequently due to numerous maladies.
Williams blew an early 3-0 lead but left after six with the Cubs up 6-4, leaving the game to the beleaguered bullpen.
"It doesn't matter if anybody is in their lineup, as long as I go out there and pitch my game," Williams said.
"That's the sign of a championship-caliber team," Lee said. "They have depth, their guys coming off their bench are contributing."
In a see-saw game, the Cubs drew first blood off Morris (11-3) with a two-run second and added another run in the third on Burnitz's solo homer.
The Cards pulled to within a run in the bottom of the inning on John Rodriguez's RBI double and an error by Todd Walker on a ball that went straight through his legs.
David Eckstein tied it in the fourth with a run-scoring double, but Lee's two-run homer in the fifth, his league-leading 32nd of the year, gave the Cubs a 5-3 lead. With 61 games remaining, Lee tied his career high in home runs, set last season.
After the Cards scored a single run in the fifth, Ramirez's solo shot in the top of the sixth made it a two-run game again.
Mark Grudzielanek's two-out, RBI single off Roberto Novoa in the seventh, after an intentional walk to the pinch-hitting Pujols, pulled the Cards to within a run at 6-5.
Novoa, however, pitched a perfect eighth, giving Dempster a chance to sew it up, with maximum drama, naturally.
"Drew it up just like we wanted to," Dempster said.