It started six months ago in Mesa, Ariz., when Ryan Dempster stood in the parking lot of Fitch Park before the opening day of spring training and calmly declared the Cubs were going to win the World Series.
Dempster wasn't afraid of jinxing the team with his bold pronouncement, pointing out there were enough curses placed on the Cubs over the decades that one more would be irrelevant.
But for the Cubs to make good on Dempster's prediction, he knew they would need a major contribution from him in his conversion from closer to starter.
And that's exactly what Dempster has done, tying a career-high with his 15th victory Saturday in a 9-2 triumph over Washington.
"I think he's by far the most important piece to this clubhouse," Mark DeRosa said of Dempster. "Just his charisma, his character … we talk about it a lot, being around him for two years. He makes the guys around him better people—not only better players, but better people off the field."
Aramis Ramirez smacked a pair of three-run homers to pace the Cubs offense, and Dempster carried a shutout into the seventh before giving up a run with a six-run lead.
With the victory, the Cubs moved to 29-games above .500 at 79-50, and can capture their eighth consecutive series for the first time since 1937 if they beat the Nationals in the rubber game Sunday.
One day after hugging the Stanley Cup at Wrigley Field, the Canadian-born right-hander spoke of the real reason for the Cubs' most successful regular season since 1969—the players like their jobs, they like each other and they like to win.
"It has been fun for all of us," he said. "This is a great time, and we just want to keep it going, continue to win games."
The Cubs knocked Odalis Perez (5-10) around early but kept stranding base-runners until breaking through with a four-run fourth, highlighted by Ramirez's line drive, three-run homer to left. DeRosa added a solo shot in the sixth to make it 6-0 and Ramirez added to the rout with an opposite-field three-run blast in the eighth.
After all the angst over the lackluster offense in the Cincinnati series and on Friday, the Cubs bats woke up with 13 hits Saturday, including three apiece from Ramirez and Ryan Theriot.
"We have a great offense," Ramirez said. "You guys just panic too quick."
Dempster did the rest, allowing one run on eight hits over 71/3 innings, issuing only one walk on the afternoon. After walking six July 25 against Florida, Dempster has walked only eight batters over his last five starts while striking out 36.
"He's dedicated. He has got good stuff. He's on a little bit of a mission," manager Lou Piniella said. "The mission is to win baseball games, help this team win and get a nice contract next year, which he deserves."
Dempster is the first Cub with 12 victories at Wrigley since Jon Lieber in 2001, and he has allowed two or fewer runs at home in seven of his last eight starts. At this pace, Dempster could win 20 games, which would make it difficult for Piniella to use anyone else as his opening game starter in the postseason, assuming the Cubs make it and have the home-field advantage.
But right now, Dempster is not thinking about winning 20 games, or Game 1, or anything but his next start.
"My motivation is one reason and one reason only, and that's to get to the playoffs and win the World Series," he said. "I'll take 15 wins and that World Series, and I'd be the happiest player in baseball."
Cubs 9, Nationals 2