A four-run first inning was all the support Ryan Dempster needed in his return from the disabled list, as the Cubs blanked the Mets, 7-0, on Sunday in the rubber match of a three-game series.
Dempster (4-3), who landed on the DL June 18, gave up four hits and didn't issue a walk over five frames, extending his scoreless inning streak to 27 in the process. He has now won four straight games since snapping an 18-start winless streak on June 5.
"Any time I get up to hit, or close to hitting, in the first inning I like my chances," said Dempster. "The guys came out swinging the bats great and made every play on defense."
Geovany Soto singled home a pair during the first-inning burst and Starlin Castro added a three-run homer in the seventh for the Cubs, who head into the All-Star break having won nine of their last 13 games.
Jon Niese (7-4) took the loss, allowing all seven runs on nine hits over seven innings.
Despite the setback, the Mets have still won seven of 11 heading into the break.
"We are in the hunt," said New York manager Terry Collins. "We have to start next week realizing that we are in a fight and we have to get ready."
It was right lat tightness, not ineffectiveness, that sidelined Dempster earlier this June. His 27 consecutive scoreless frames are the longest by a Cubs starter since Ken Holtzman's 27-inning stretch in 1971.
Dempster worked around Scott Hairston's one-out triple in the second and retired nine straight batters after Niese and Ruben Tejada singled to start the third.
Paul Maholm, Manuel Corpas, James Russell and Shawn Camp each tossed an inning of relief, limiting the Mets to four combined hits and no walks over that span to complete the shutout.
Niese settled after a shaky first, which began with consecutive singles by Reed Johnson and Castro and later featured an RBI base hit by Alfonso Soriano and a run-scoring double by Jeff Baker.
After Soto's two-run single capped the frame, Niese didn't allow a runner to advance past first base until Luis Valbuena and Johnson reached ahead of Castro's seventh-inning homer to left-center.
Holtzman also had a run of 33 scoreless innings in 1969 -- the longest streak by a Cubs starter...To make room for Dempster on the roster, the Cubs optioned pitcher Chris Volstad to Triple-A Iowa...Mets All-Star David Wright went 1- for-4, extending his home hitting streak to 16 games.