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PIT@CHC: Ramirez's solo shot gets Cubs on the board

CHICAGO -- The Cubs were able to do the little things Sunday, but it helped that Aramis Ramirez was able to hit in a big way.

Ramirez hit his first homer since April 6 and second of the season to back Ryan Dempster and lift the Cubs to a 3-2, rain-delayed victory over the Pirates and avert a sweep.

"I've got a long ways to go," Ramirez said. "Hopefully, I keep driving the ball."

The Cubs hope so. Ramirez's blast ended a 155 at-bat homerless streak, the second longest of his career. The longest stretch was 170 at-bats from Aug. 2, 1998, to April 21, 2000. Sunday's shot also gave him 291 home runs in his career.

He's had a tender left hamstring but didn't blame that for the power outage.

"No excuses," Ramirez said. "Nobody around here is 100 percent [healthy], and I'm not. But there's a lot of guys here who aren't. I don't like to make excuses. I just haven't performed the way I'd like to."

The last time he had two home runs in the first two months of the season was 2003, when he was with the Pirates. Ramirez, traded to the Cubs in July that year, finished with 27.

"I've been through it before," he said. "It's part of baseball. You're going to struggle. I was hitting, but I wasn't getting extra-base hits, and that's what I get paid for is to drive in runs. I haven't done that so far, and it's time to get going."

Dempster (4-4) took the same approach in May. He improved to 3-1 this month with his third straight win. The Cubs were fortunate to get the game in after sitting through a rain delay of 2 hours, 34 minutes, which was followed by thick fog. Dempster hung out in the players' lounge while Ramirez took a nap during the delay.

"You sit around for a game all day in weather like that -- it's nice to win a game," Dempster said.

Dempster retired the first two batters on seven pitches, but then walked both Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker -- the latter on four pitches -- to set up Lyle Overbay's two-run double. The Cubs right-hander threw 25 pitches in the inning, 11 for strikes.

"I just tried to keep making pitches," Dempster said. "There's a lot of game left. You keep trying to go up there and get outs, and hopefully you come back, and we did a good job executing at the plate. Guys made great plays and played really good defense."

Ramirez led off the Chicago second with his blast, launching the first pitch from Jeff Karstens (3-4) into the left-field bleachers. Carlos Pena then singled and scored two batters later on Koyie Hill's sacrifice fly, which may be costly for the Pirates. Catcher Ryan Doumit had to leave the game with a sprained left ankle, which occurred in the collision at home with Pena.

"He put a great swing on that ball," manager Mike Quade said of Ramirez's homer. "Those home runs are going to come for him."

The best inning for the Cubs, though, was the third, when Kosuke Fukudome doubled to lead off, moved up on Darwin Barney's sacrifice and scored on Starlin Castro's sacrifice fly.

"If we execute like that on a regular basis where we get [Tony] Campana's speed involved and get some bunts down and get the sac fly and all the rest of it, we should be fine as long as we back up our pitching with good defense," Quade said.

"You've got to win those kind of games," Ramirez said of the one-run win. "You're not going to get 10 hits every day or score eight runs every day. If you're going to be successful, you've got to win these games, too."

Dempster struck out five, gave up four hits and walked three over six innings for his fifth quality start in his last six games. He had none in his first six starts this season.

"We've talked about him getting back in tune and command of his pitches," Quade said. "After that first inning, he was able to do that. In his first few starts, he wasn't making enough quality pitches. His ability to do damage control -- because of the long ball, in particular -- was tough. I think he's got things figured out, and he's the guy we've seen. He's had a great May. As he goes, the rest of our starters go, so will we go."

The Pirates sensed that Dempster made in-game adjustments.

"He was pounding his fastball early and then he lost his command, made a couple mistakes over the plate [in the first]," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "The ball stayed out of the zone after that. [He] changed speeds very effectively."

The Pirates still have the edge in the season series at 4-2, and they have gone 16-7 against the Cubs since Sept. 30, 2009.

"We haven't played the way we'd like to against the [National League] Central," Ramirez said. "We've got another series against another Central team [the Astros] and then we go on the road and play St. Louis and Cincinnati. It's about time for us to start playing good baseball against the Central."

The good news is the weather forecast for Monday calls for temperatures in the 90s. Sunday's game was the eighth home game out of 28 where the temperature was above 60 degrees. When it gets warmer, usually offenses heat up.

"If what I hear is correct, [Monday] could be really fun," Quade said. "Ninety [degrees]? I'll have a bathing suit on."

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