Mets' 4-run 9th sinks Cubs

Ryan Dempster suffered another ninth-inning meltdown against the New York Mets on an otherwise perfect afternoon at Wrigley Field, conjuring up memories of his previous collapse May 17 at Shea Stadium.

The Mets scored four runs in the ninth inning off Dempster on Friday to turn a tie game into a 6-2 victory as the Cubs started out a three-game showdown of first-place teams on a sour note.

"They're good hitters," Dempster said. "If I didn't face the Mets this year, I'd be having one heck of a year."

On that May day at Shea, manager Lou Piniella yanked Dempster in the ninth after five of the six batters he faced reached base, turning a four-run lead into a 6-5 loss. Piniella then briefly considered moving him to the rotation.

After Milwaukee's win over to Philadelphia, the Cubs dropped one game behind the Brewers.

On a day when Carlos Zambrano tied a career worst with seven walks and left in the sixth inning with cramps, Jason Kendall tied the game 2-2 with an RBI double off Orlando Hernandez in the seventh before Piniella called on Dempster to preserve the tie in the ninth.

A leadoff walk on a close 3-2 pitch to David Wright started Dempster's relapse, and Carlos Delgado's run-scoring double to right gave the Mets the lead.

Piniella was asked afterward if Dempster simply didn't match up well against the Mets, who got run-scoring hits in the ninth from left-handed hitters Delgado and Shawn Green as well as switch-hitters Ruben Gotay and Jose Reyes.

"I don't know," Piniella replied. "But I am aware of it."

Piniella had left-handers Will Ohman and Scott Eyre available in the bullpen, but Ohman had given up three ninth-inning runs Thursday against the Phillies and Eyre had pitched two straight days.

Dempster hadn't given up a run since returning from the disabled list two weeks ago, and he had held left-handed hitters to a .214 average before Friday. His consistency is one reason some of the Cubs were upset their closer was booed off the mound by the crowd of 41,512 after his disastrous inning.

"It is disappointing," right fielder Cliff Floyd said. "We're in this together. No matter what happens, when you boo one guy, you're booing the whole team.

"At home, we need that 26th man. You need that extra boost, no matter what the situation. [The fans] are ticked off, and justifiably so. But at the same time, we need everybody backing us when we're at home."

Derrek Lee, whose sixth-inning homer off Hernandez tied the game 1-1, echoed Floyd's comments.

"It really makes no sense," he said. "Dempster has probably been as good as anyone on our team. You can't be perfect."

Dempster was surprised and dismayed by the booing.

"I hadn't given up a run since June 9, so it's a little …" he said, then stopped in mid-sentence, deciding it was best to bite his tongue.

"That's the way it goes though," he said. "We're expected to win, so I'm fine with it. Just go out and do my job [Saturday] if they ask me to."

Cubs hitters were just as much to blame for the loss, going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position against Hernandez and three Mets relievers.

With the game tied 2-2 in the eighth, Lee singled off Guillermo Mota, stole second and advanced to third on Ramon Castro's throwing error.

But Aramis Ramirez flied to center on a 2-1 pitch to end the threat.

"We're in a dogfight, and it's going to be a dogfight for two months, so every loss is disappointing," Lee said. "Today you could see after the first two innings it was going to be a tough day for runs."