Cubs continue surge, thump Bucs
Four homers for second straight day give Hill 10th victory
CHICAGO -- Alfonso Soriano picked the perfect time to get hot, rookie Sam Fuld made the perfect catch and the Cubs continued to put pressure on the Milwaukee Brewers in the Central Division race.
Soriano belted his 30th and 31st home runs and drove in five runs, Aramis Ramirez hit a two-run shot to reach 100 RBIs and Derrek Lee added a solo homer to power the Cubs to a 9-5 victory on Saturday over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Cubs began the day with a 1 1/2-game lead over Milwaukee, and the early win gave the Brewers something to think about.
"These are games we have to win, especially playing before Milwaukee and the other teams do," Chicago's Mark DeRosa said. "It's just sending them a message that the best they can do is hold serve against us for that day. We just have to keep grinding. We're playing good baseball, and our superstars are really playing well at the right time."
Soriano hit a solo shot with two outs in the second that tied the game at 3, a two-run homer with two outs in the fifth and a two-run double with two outs in the seventh. He has now reached 30 homers for the fourth straight year and sixth time in his career.
"I think I've got my timing at the right time," Soriano said. "It's September, the team needs the offense."
Asked if what Soriano was doing this month was "eye-popping," DeRosa smiled.
"His contract is eye-popping," DeRosa said of Soriano's eight-year, $136 million deal. "He is probably one of the more exciting players in the game, if not the most exciting player in the game. He can really change the game offensively.
"It's amazing the strength he possesses," DeRosa said. "He has such a lightning bat, and uses a huge, huge bat. What he's done this month is huge for the team."
What Soriano has done is hit .313 (30-for-96) in September with 12 homers and 22 RBIs. Keep in mind he did not homer at all in April and had 15 home runs and 33 RBIs in 81 games before the All-Star break. The last Cub to hit more than 11 homers in September in the last 50 years was Ernie Banks, who totaled 13 in 1957.
|"This time of year, you hope your big people get hot and carry you. That's exactly what's happening -- it's coming at the right time. These are big-game people."|
|-- Cubs manager Lou Piniella|
Pirates pitcher Salomon Torres served up Soriano's second home run, then stared at the outfielder as he rounded the bases.
"I didn't appreciate him standing at the plate, but what are you going to do?" Torres said of Soriano. "That's his routine. Next time, I'll have my routine. I'll strike him out and show him up."
Ramirez, who hit a pair of homers on Friday, connected with none out and one on in the third, and Lee, who was 4-for-5, launched his with two outs in the first. The Cubs, who have been power challenged most of the season and rank 12th in the National League in home runs, now have hit 36 in September, their highest monthly total for the year.
It doesn't seem to matter who hits lately.
"It's important that we win the game," Ramirez said. "It doesn't matter if it's me or Soriano. It's about us getting to the playoffs."
Rich Hill (10-8) benefitted, giving up three runs, five hits and two walks over five innings. He wasn't sharp, but may be going through some growing pains.
"This is a wonderful experience for him, and at the same time, he's probably approaching 200 [innings] and that's a lot of innings for a young pitcher," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of Hill, who has logged 189 innings so far. "You have to go through this, and hopefully he'll go through it for another three, four years. He'll learn from it and get better from it."
Fuld made the catch of the day, snaring Nyjer Morgan's fly ball at the wall and doubling up baserunner Nate McLouth in the seventh. Fuld had the presence of mind to throw to first.
"Morgan hit that ball real well," Fuld said. "The wind was a little different today than [Friday, when it was blowing out]. I knew I had a chance at it. I knew it was going to be pretty close between me and the wall, and luckily there was just enough room there.
"I didn't even know where the runner was, but I had a feeling he'd be out there pretty far," Fuld said. "I just turned and threw."
Saturday's crowd of 41,271 gave Fuld a standing ovation and chanted his name when he came to bat in the eighth. The Cubs have set a franchise record for single-season attendance, drawing 3,211,098 to top the old mark of 3,170,184 set in 2004. And there's still one regular-season game to play on Sunday.
Of course, the Cubs are hoping for more games at Wrigley after that.
"They're hungry," Pirates starting pitcher Zach Duke said of the Cubs. "They can taste the playoffs. They're playing like a playoff team."
"They're playing at an extremely high level right now," Pittsburgh manager Jim Tracy said. "They're on a mission. You can tell they're beginning to see the finish line. They are honed in and focused."
And the Cubs are finally getting the offense in gear.
"This time of year, you hope your big people get hot and carry you," Piniella said. "That's exactly what's happening -- it's coming at the right time. These are big-game people."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.