ST. LOUIS -- Ryan Dempster's scoreless-inning streak ended Friday while the countdown continued for how long he will remain with the Cubs.
The Cardinals snapped Dempster's scoreless-innings streak at 33 with three quick runs in the first inning, and Matt Holliday added a 469-foot home run en route to a 4-1 victory over the Cubs.
Dempster, who was being aggressively pursued by several teams prior to the July 31 Trade Deadline, served up four runs on seven hits and two walks over six innings. His ERA rose to 2.11, still best in the National League.
"I'm not naive," Dempster said. "I realize everything that's going on. I'm well aware [a trade] can happen at any minute. I'm not going to walk on eggshells or worry about that. I can only focus on what I can focus on, and that's going out there today and trying to pitch and do my job. Now my focus is to work hard tomorrow and get ready five days from now."
Perhaps the reason he can be so calm is that Dempster is calling the shots. As a player with 10 years in the big leagues and five with the same team, he can veto any deal.
"It's awesome being the hammer and not the nail," Dempster said.
He didn't take the mound at Busch Stadium thinking it might be his last start for the Cubs.
"Maybe that's why I'm not so uneasy about it because at the end of the day, it's my decision," he said.
Dempster had not given up a run since the fifth inning on May 30, throwing 33 shutout innings over his last five starts. The Cardinals ended the streak in eight pitches. Dempster struck out Skip Schumaker to start the first, but Allen Craig and Holliday each singled, and Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina both delivered RBI singles. Another run scored when Lance Berkman grounded out to first baseman Anthony Rizzo for a 3-0 lead. In Dempster's 14 previous starts, he had given up one run total in the first inning.
Holliday, Molina and Berkman each hit the first pitch from Dempster. Craig saw two pitches in his at-bat, Beltran three.
"I think I gave up three runs and I'd only thrown 13 pitches," Dempster said. "You want to come out and be aggressive, but you also don't want to just throw the ball down the middle and I felt I missed over the plate with a couple of those. You get behind the eight-ball, 3-0, real quick.
"After [the first], I felt I settled down other than Matt Holliday hitting one off the [St. Louis] arch," he said. "We got out-pitched tonight. ... That's one of the toughest lineups in the league."
Holliday didn't quite reach the St. Louis monument, just the upper deck in left. He made it 4-1 when he launched his 15th home run with one out in the Cardinals third off a 2-1 pitch from Dempster. It was measured at 469 feet, a stadium record, and longer than anything Albert Pujols hit at the Cardinals ballpark.
"It was a hanging split finger fastball that didn't split," Dempster said. "It split the middle of the plate. He's swinging the bat well now, and I made a mistake and he made me pay for it a long way."
The 33-inning streak is the seventh-longest scoreless stretch in Cubs history, matching Ken Holtzman, who racked up 33 scoreless innings in 1969.
"It's a humbling thing to think about something like that," Dempster said. "You dream about doing things like that, or think it's impossible -- to actually do it is another thing."
What impressed Cubs manager Dale Sveum was how Dempster regrouped after the fast-paced first.
"He was right back to his normal self after [the first]," Sveum said. "It's just too bad they came out and ambushed him."
Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire put together a good game plan, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said, and they executed it.
"You have to be aggressive with him," Holliday said of Dempster. "He throws a lot of strikes, and if you get behind, he's got some good put-away pitches. As a group, we've faced him so much that we knew we had to be aggressive early in the count and we were able to do that in the first inning."
Was it his last start for the Cubs? Dempster most likely didn't follow the rumors on Twitter on Friday, which ranged from him being dealt hours before his start, to talks dragging out for a few days.
"[The media] has a job to do and I understand that," Dempster said of the rumors. "For me, it's just business as usual and I have to do what I have to do. Nothing has changed for me. I have to go out and get ready for my next start. I'm sure if they have something of any substance to it, they'll come up and ask me, but until then, I just worry about what I can do."
He doesn't hesitate when his phone rings.
"I'm hoping its Publisher's Clearing House -- Ed McMahon maybe," he said.
"It's a lot to be dealing with, a streak like that," Sveum said. "The rumors of any second, any day, any hour something could happen -- that's not the easiest thing to deal with."
Things have gone well lately for the Cubs, now 14-6 since June 25, the best record in baseball. They just had a tough time against Kyle Lohse. Chicago's only run came in the second as Bryan LaHair walked, reached third on Steve Clevenger's singled, and scored on Darwin Barney's sacrifice fly.
Here's the real shocker -- despite all the rumors, Dempster could end up staying with the Cubs.
"If I'm going to go, I want to go win," Dempster said. "For right now, I'm a member of this team and I want to do the best I can to be a good teammate and go out there and do my job when I'm asked to do my job."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.