PHILADELPHIA -- Cubs right-hander Ryan Dempster, a proud Canadian and hockey fan, had tickets for the Philadelphia Flyers' playoff game across the street from Citizens Bank Park on Sunday. The only problem was that it started an hour-and-a-half after the scheduled first pitch of his team's game against the Phillies.
No problem. After allowing a soft leadoff single to Jimmy Rollins in the bottom of the first, Cubs starter Matt Garza reeled off 18 straight outs. He struck out 10, but also got the Phillies to pop up or ground out early in counts, moving the game along.
Two hours and 33 minutes after it started, the Cubs had an efficient 5-1 win and Dempster was out the door.
Garza went seven innings and allowed just that single and a one-out walk to Juan Pierre in the seventh.
"When he's right he can compete with [the top pitchers in baseball]," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "He has four pitches as well as velocity. He can go from 91 with his sinker, then four-seam it up in the zone to get popups and swing-and-misses. He's got a very good knack for what he is doing."
Garza was asked if he thinks he can be even more dominating than he was against the Phillies. "If I don't get in my own way. If I don't try to think too much," he said with a smile.
While Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has been trying to get his hitters to be more patient at the plate, Garza prevailed with an approach that was exactly the opposite.
"My game plan was to keep them off-balance and try to induce weak ground balls or weak popups. And it worked," Garza said.
The Phillies have scored two or fewer runs a dozen times already this year, so Pierre was asked if Sunday's outcome had more to do with Garza being so good or the Phillies' hitters continuing to struggle.
"I guess a mixture of the two," he said. "He threw strikes. He had control over three of his pitches. He's always a tough guy to face. We couldn't put any pressure on him. It's a little easier when you have a guy in scoring position, but we didn't have one against him."
With Garza and Dempster, who is scheduled to return from the disabled list to start at Cincinnati on Thursday, Sveum thinks he has the makings of a competitive rotation. He talked before the game about how it would still be up to the offense to score enough runs, then watched in satisfaction as his hitters executed sound fundamentals and took advantage when they got a couple of breaks.
In the second inning, Jeff Baker faced Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick with Bryan LaHair on second and none out. He ripped a line drive to right that was misjudged by Hunter Pence and it sailed over his head for a double. LaHair had to stop at third, but scored when Ian Stewart played small ball by grounding out to second.
"Baker crushed that ball, so sometimes those are some of the tougher balls, especially for opposite outfielders," Sveum said. "But we ended up taking advantage of it and took the lead there, which is huge.
"We did some great situational hitting. Got guys over, got them in, did a nice job there. The timely hitting and the situational hitting was great."
In the third, Tony Campana led off with a single and went to second when first baseman Ty Wigginton couldn't handle a pickoff attempt. Campana reached third on an infield out and scored on a sacrifice fly by Starlin Castro. The play at the plate was so close that Manuel briefly argued the call.
Campana also reached on an infield single in the eighth. He stole second and was sacrificed to third, and scored on a grounder even though the Phillies had the infield in. The speed of the outfielder, who was called up from Triple-A Iowa on April 21, has had a significant impact on this series. On Friday night, he had two infield hits and scored both times.
"He's done a great job," Sveum said. "If he's able to hit and get on base, it opens up a lot. Go on contract when he's on third and it's going to be very, very difficult to ever throw him out on any ground ball. You've got to be perfect with the throw. We scored two runs on just flat out speed, that's all it was. Anybody else you don't even think about sending him on that [shallow] a fly ball, but a guy like that you send him on just about anything that's not on the infield dirt."
Said Garza: "He's just too quick. If I was facing him, it would be a pain in the butt. You want him to hit the ball hard. He's one of the few where you want him to hit the ball hard. You want him to get it up in the air. Because if he hits it on the ground, nine out of 10 times he's going to be safe. It's awesome for us, for the other guys it's a pain."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.