Clutch Cubs lift Lilly to 11th win
Team knocks in five runs after two outs on the night
ST. LOUIS -- All the Cubs want from their starting pitchers is a chance to win. Ted Lilly has done that and picked up a few RBIs as well.
Cliff Floyd and Mike Fontenot each drove in two runs to help Lilly win his seventh straight decision and lead the Cubs to a 7-1 victory Wednesday night over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
Now 21-7 in their last 28 games, the Cubs pulled within two games of the Central Division-leading Milwaukee Brewers, who lost, 7-3, to Cincinnati. Chicago is 31-15 since June 3, the best record in the Major Leagues over that stretch.
"How we're playing now, it's a very good feeling," Chicago's Alfonso Soriano said.
Lilly (11-4) improved to 7-0 with a 2.77 ERA since June 15, giving up 17 earned runs over 55 1/3 innings.
"I'm not counting," Lilly said of his win streak. "I'm going out there, and my first focus is doing whatever it takes to keep us in the game. Early in the game, it looked like [Adam] Wainwright was going to be very tough tonight. It looked like there would be very little room for error. When we got some guys on, it looked like he made some mistakes."
Lilly helped himself by hitting an RBI single in the eighth to extend his hitting streak to four games. Lilly began this season with one hit in 23 career at-bats, and that was back in 1999. Now, he's 8-for-48 this season with four RBIs.
"He's got some RBI hits for us lately," Fontenot said. "Somebody said he was trying to be like Ichiro [Suzuki] today, and it worked out well for him."
"I'm having fun with that," Lilly said of his hitting. "It seems like even when I come up there are runners on base."
Lilly is the first Cubs lefty to win 11 games since Greg Hibbard went 15-11 in 1993. Against the Cardinals, he struck out two, walked three and gave up six hits over seven innings, the 54th quality start by a Cubs pitcher this year. Last season, they totaled 60 quality starts.
"One thing, we've been watching his pitch counts real carefully," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "We want to keep him as fresh and rested as we can through the month of August and into September."
Lilly has tried to get Piniella to let him go a little deeper in games.
"He's been at this for a long time, and he's obviously got a very good feel with pitchers," Lilly said of Piniella. "My feeling is I have four days' rest in between. Every once in a while, I'd like to stretch it out and go deeper in the games.
"I don't think I'm going to win the argument with him," Lilly said. "I've expressed my opinion. His philosophy is he wants me strong at the end of the year. I have to respect his opinion."
This is the first time a Cubs left-hander has reached 11 wins before the team's 100th game since Ken Holtzman did so in 1969. Lilly also is the first lefty to win seven in a row since Holtzman won eight straight that year, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
"We've been finding a way to win, in one facet or another it seems like every time the guys go out there, especially when I'm pitching, we're scoring a lot of runs, and that's a lot of fun," Lilly said.
Wainwright (9-8) struck out six of the first 10 batters he faced. Chicago had runners at first and second with two outs in the fourth, when Fontenot and Jacque Jones each hit RBI singles to open a 2-0 lead. Chicago came into the game having scored 48.3 percent of its 60 runs since the All-Star break with two outs in an inning.
"When you get two-out hitting, it's a little bit of a demoralizer, and we've been doing a good job at it, at least in this series," Piniella said. "Let's hope it continues."
Two outs? No problem. Nine of the Cubs' 11 runs in the two games so far, and 13 of the 24 hits, have come with two outs.
"We've been doing it as a team, and getting some big two-out hits, and it's really helping the team," Fontenot said. "It seems like every game, somebody is getting a big two-out hit. It's one of the things that helps you keep winning."
Lilly's only blip was in the fourth. So Taguchi walked to start the inning, and he stole second and reached third on a throwing error by the Cubs pitcher before scoring on Juan Encarnacion's single.
Soriano tripled with one out in the fifth, the first extra-base hit by the Cubs after a string of 16 singles. Ryan Theriot singled to drive in Soriano and make it 3-1. Derrek Lee reached on a fielder's choice, forcing Theriot at second, and Aramis Ramirez doubled to set up Floyd's two-run double. Floyd, who came into the game hitless in his last four contests, then scored on Fontenot's RBI single.
"It doesn't matter -- as long as we win, it doesn't matter," Soriano said about how the Cubs are manufacturing runs.
Wainwright finished with a career-high seven Ks, but also gave up six runs on nine hits and one walk over five innings. The Cubs are 5-2 against the Cardinals this season, including 4-0 at Busch Stadium.
"We're definitely getting confidence, but we're also aware it's not going to fall in our lap," Lilly said. "That comes from respecting the opposition and being aware there are a lot of good teams out there. Every day, we're aware we'll have to earn every win."
With the win, Piniella passed Dick Williams for 17th on the all-time list with 1,572 career victories.
"I've been doing this for a long time," Piniella said. "Sooner or later, I'll pass some of these guys. Dick's a pretty good manager, a real good manager, and probably should be in the Hall of Fame. We'll worry about the Cubs winning baseball games, and when my career is over, we'll see how many I win."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.