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The idea in May was for Ryan Dempster to mentor Carlos Marmol on the art of closing so Dempster one day could move back into the rotation.
But that was another lifetime ago in Wrigleyville, and after Marmol turned in another dominant outing Thursday night and Dempster survived a shaky ninth to preserve the Cubs' 5-4 victory over Milwaukee, the tables suddenly have turned.
"He's mentoring me," Dempster said with a grin.
Matt Murton and Alfonso Soriano hit back-to-back home runs to give the Cubs the lead for keeps in the sixth before another white-knuckle finish in front of a screaming crowd of 40,790.
Dempster may have posted the save after inducing Kevin Mench to ground into a force play with the bases loaded to end the game and push the Cubs 2 1/2 games ahead of the Brewers and three ahead of St. Louis in the NL Central, but it was Marmol who saved the day.
The 24-year-old right-hander notched the victory in relief with scoreless innings in the sixth and seventh after Ted Lilly left early because of a high pitch count.
After striking out the side on 12 pitches in the sixth, Marmol fanned Prince Fielder on a fastball with runners on the corners and one out in the seventh, then caught Corey Hart looking at strike three to end the inning with the tying runs in scoring position.
"Feels great," Marmol said. "You have to do whatever you can do to be the best."
There aren't many better relievers than Marmol these days, as his 1.47 ERA attests.
"He has the confidence going right now, and that's huge, especially when you're a young guy," Dempster said.
"It's almost become commonplace to see right-handed hitters buckle against him," Mark DeRosa added. "You don't get that too often, and when you get that it's pretty impressive. He gets it on a nightly basis, and against good hitters. When he comes in, it's pretty special."
Bob Howry pitched a scoreless eighth after Marmol's departure, setting up Dempster's adventurous ninth.
After serving up a leadoff double to Joe Dillon and plunking Rickie Weeks, Dempster watched J.J. Hardy bunt the runners along.
Ryan Braun grounded to third for the second out, but manager Lou Piniella ordered an intentional walk to Fielder to load the bases.
"In the ninth inning, you really hate to put the winning run on base," Piniella said. "But if Fielder had beaten us there, I would've needed three martinis to get to bed, so we just took our chances. … We weren't going to give him a chance to beat us."
With the crowd on its feet, Dempster walked Hart on a 3-2 pitch to force in a run before he induced Mench into a force play at second to end it.
The Cubs improved to 13-20 against left-handed starters, and got clutch home runs off lefty reliever Chris Capuano. Murton came in on a double switch in the sixth, and still is learning how to become a productive bench player. Murton credited his consistent playing time at Triple-A Iowa, after playing sparingly in the first two months with the Cubs.
"And when I came back I had a 10-12 game stretch where I was able to play," he said. "I had some success there … and having that success made me feel better. Now it's a matter of knowing what it is I'm trying to accomplish, getting back to the things I've done and continue to do those things."
Before his homer, Soriano was 1-for-12 since returning from his quad injury, and was booed after striking out in his first three at-bats Thursday.
"I felt like there was a lot of pressure because [people think] I came back too soon," he said. "Thank God I hit a home run."
The Cubs also dodged a bullet when Derrek Lee suffered only a bruised rib after falling on a piece of protective plastic shielding atop the brick wall while attempting to catch a foul ball off Fielder's bat in the seventh.
"It took my breath away," Lee said. "I didn't know where I was at. That ball was moving somewhere else and I lost completely where I was on the field. Next thing I knew, I was falling into the stands."
Lee survived the minor scare, and the Cubs survived another wild night at Wrigley.