The Cubs began their biggest trip of the season Tuesday night in the city where booing is a way of life, which made them feel completely at home.
They took advantage of the comfy surroundings, riding the arm of Carlos Zambrano and surviving a ninth-inning scare to eke out a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia at Citizens Bank Park.
"That would've been a devastating loss," manager Dusty Baker said. "We've had enough of those."
Zambrano gave up four hits in eight innings before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the ninth with a 2-0 lead because of a bruised left big toe. That's when Ryan Dempster took everyone back to the days of LaTroy Hawkins, when everything that could go wrong usually did.
Dempster walked four straight hitters after retiring the first man he faced, forcing in a run on a bases-loaded walk to Ryan Howard on a 3-2 pitch. But instead of imploding, Dempster struck out David Bell and pinch-hitter Tomas Perez to record his 15th save.
"Just wanted to make 'Z' sweat," Dempster said.
Baker had Roberto Novoa warming up, but stuck with his closer in the do-or-die situation.
"I didn't even know if anybody was warming up," Dempster said. "I was just trying to think, 'Make a pitch, make a pitch, make a pitch.'"
Baker said his hair was turning grayer by the second, while Zambrano was in the clubhouse wondering if his self-described "bad luck" would deny him another chance at a victory.
Dempster apologized to Cubs fans watching on TV, saying he was trying to be "too fine" instead of just being aggressive.
"Wow," he said. "If I can put people on the edge of their seats any more back in Chicago, I apologize. It was interesting, to say the least."
Zambrano, who improved to 8-4, shrugged off the dramatics.
"Those things happen," he said.
The game nearly turned on a freak bounce in the top of the eighth inning that could have sealed the Cubs' demise. One pitch later, Aramis Ramirez put a stake in the Phillies' heart, pushing a panicky crowd of 32,585 over the edge.
With the bases loaded and no outs in a scoreless duel between Zambrano and Vicente Padilla, Ugueth Urbina relieved Padilla.
Urbina fired a pitch to the backstop on a 0-1 count to Ramirez, but the ball ricocheted back to catcher Mike Lieberthal, forcing Matt Lawton to return to third and Derrek Lee to second.
But Jeromy Burnitz was more than halfway to second, and Lieberthal picked him off easily.
With first base open, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel opted to continue pitching to Ramirez instead of walking him intentionally to face Todd Walker. Burnitz was barely back in the dugout when Ramirez lashed the next pitch into left for a two-run single.
"It turned from very unlucky, back to lucky to almost unlucky again," Baker said of the strange sequence.
Zambrano allowed a pair of singles in the first and a leadoff single to Howard in the second, but didn't give up another hit until Bobby Abreu's leadoff double in the seventh. After Pat Burrell advanced the runner by grounding out to second, Zambrano retired Howard on a check-swing comebacker, then induced Bell to ground to short, igniting the boo birds in Philly.
"That was a really good slider," Zambrano said. "I've been feeling good with my slider my last four starts."
After throwing 104 pitches. Zambrano was forced to leave because of the bruised toe, which he had hurt sliding against Boston on June 11,
"At the end there, obviously, were some opportunities for us to give it away," Burnitz said. "But [Dempster] got it done. It's a big win, but like we've been saying, they're all big for us."