Soriano homers twice as Cubs win
Chicago gains ground in NL Central as Milwaukee loses
CINCINNATI -- Before Saturday's game, manager Lou Piniella was asked about the low number of home runs this season.
"It is somewhat surprising that 16 home runs leads our team," Piniella said. "I'm interested in winning baseball games, not how many home runs we have."
Well, Lou, here's an update: Alfonso Soriano now leads the team with 18, the Cubs have hit 85 homers this season -- and they picked up their 54th win Saturday night.
Soriano hit a three-run homer into the upper deck in left and a two-run shot in the ninth, and Derrek Lee added a two-run homer to power the Cubs to an 8-1 victory over the Reds before a sellout and loud pro-Chicago crowd of 42,365. It was the largest non-Opening Day crowd ever at Great American Ball Park.
The Cubs have won 22 of their last 31 games and are 32-17 since June 3, best record in the Majors in that stretch.
"We've just got to keep grinding," Piniella said. "It's a little early to get google-eyed over where we're at. There's too much baseball here in August to be played."
Sean Marshall (5-4) finally got some run support. The team had scored eight runs while he was on the mound in his last five starts. Marshall gave up one run, six hits, one walk and struck out three over six-plus innings to pick up his first win since June 24.
"I'm pretty pleased with what's going on with my pitching, and it's a blast playing for this team right now, and been a blast playing for them the last two years. I hope we can keep it up and carry it into October."
Marshall also picked up his first career double leading off the fifth, but was thrown out at home trying to score on Soriano's single to right. It was an ill-advised move, and almost made worse when Soriano was nearly picked off stretching his hit. One out later, Lee was intentionally walked, and Cliff Floyd hit an RBI double.
"I was talking to [umpire] Joe West, and he said, 'You're 0-for-17 and you can't hit and can't bunt,'" Marshall said. "I just swung, and the guy threw it right on the barrel of the bat and I finally got a hit."
The umpire dissed Marshall's hitting?
"I was talking to him the whole time," Marshall said, laughing. "We had a good time back there."
He did admit he shouldn't have tried to score.
"I haven't been on base in a long time, and I guess I didn't get the best read," Marshall said. "I wanted to make sure he didn't catch it. I got a bad jump. Tip your cap to the guys making the relay throw and throwing it on the money."
"The ball hit off the wall and came right back to the right fielder," Piniella said. "I don't think Marshall read it well."
Third base coach Mike Quade was upset at himself after the play.
"He shouldn't take the blame for that," Marshall said of Quade. "I didn't run like I can run. I'm not a fast runner anyways, but I didn't get the jump I needed. Next time, I'll go a little harder on the bases."
Lee got things started in the first when he hit his 10th home run and second on the road with one on and one out off Reds starter Aaron Harang (10-3). Lee was asked about the lack of power before the game as well.
"You won't believe us, but we don't care," Lee said. "We just want to win. It's nice to score eight runs -- I guess it's easier to get to eight with home runs. We really don't care how it happens, we just want to win."
That was Harang's only inning. The right-hander was pulled because of low back spasms, and Mike Gosling took over in the second. With one out, Jacque Jones walked and Jason Kendall singled, and both advanced on Marshall's sacrifice. Soriano then launched his team-high 17th home run, and the 50th to reach the upper deck in left at Great American Ball Park and fifth this season for a 5-0 lead.
Soriano also connected with one on and one out in the ninth off Todd Coffey, for his 17th multi-homer game of his career, and second this year. He hit three on June 8 at Atlanta. His five RBIs matched a career high, done four times. What's his theory for the low number of homers?
"I think pitchers are very careful with us because they know we have a very good lineup, and power," Soriano said.
When Soriano took the field in the bottom of the ninth, he received a standing ovation from the Cubs fans in left, and they chanted his name.
"It's fun," Soriano said. "I think we have more fans in Cincinnati. It's fun that they follow the team."
They have a reason to. Even better than finally hitting some home runs, the St. Louis Cardinals swept the Milwaukee Brewers in a doubleheader, and the Cubs are 1 1/2 games back in the National League Central.
"We've gotten ourselves in position, which is the most important thing," Piniella said, "and we just have to keep playing."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.