Speedy Soto sparks runaway win
Catcher hits three-run, inside-the-park homer to ignite Cubs
HOUSTON -- Geovany Soto shifted into high gear, and never looked back.
The Cubs catcher hit a three-run, inside-the-park home run and Aramis Ramirez added a more routine two-run shot Monday night to back Ted Lilly and lift Chicago to a 7-2 victory over the Astros for its ninth win in the last 11 games.
"They just misplayed that ball," Soto said. "I didn't dream of hitting one of those."
Soto gave the Cubs a 3-0 lead in the fourth. With one out against Brian Moehler (1-1), Ramirez singled and Kosuke Fukudome walked to set up Soto, who hit a line drive off the left-center-field wall that ricocheted into center. Houston's Michael Bourn had to run to chase the ball down, but Soto never hesitated and ran full speed to post the Cubs' first inside-the-park home run since Derrek Lee did so Aug. 26, 2007, at Arizona.
Soto was still a little winded after the game.
"When I turned first, and I was about to step on second, the umpire called safe, like the play's still live," Soto said. "I tried to get to third with a standup triple, but [third-base coach] Mike Quade waved me home. I was like, 'No way.' I was using my last breath to get to third, and he wants me to go home. I just kept going, and I just got there."
Had he ever hit an inside-the-park home run before?
"Never in my life," Soto said. "Maybe Little League, when there's no fence in center field."
Soto wasn't sure if the ball was over the yellow line and a legit home run.
"That left-center area is so big, I didn't think I hit it over it, so I wanted to make sure a double, maybe triple if they misplayed it," he said. "I was ready to shut it down at second, maybe third.
"A standup inside-the-park [homer] -- when's the last time you've see that?" he said.
Soto is the first Cubs catcher to record an inside-the-park homer since Cal Neeman raced around the bases on June 17, 1959, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It was Soto's ninth home run and raised his RBI total to a team-high 33.
|"I tried to get to third with a standup triple, but [third-base coach] Mike Quade waved me home. I was like, 'No way.' I was using my last breath to get to third, and he wants me to go home."|
|-- Geovany Soto|
For the game, Lilly struck out six and gave up four hits and two walks over 5 1/3 innings.
"I was inconsistent with my location, so that made it tough," Lilly said. "All in all, this was a good win for us. We played very good defense and had timely hits, and our bullpen was phenomenal. To ask them to go out there and shut down a pretty hot lineup throughout -- we owe this win to the bullpen."
Give Jim Edmonds an assist. He was limping after fouling a ball off his right shin in the fourth, but looked healthy in the bottom of the inning as he robbed Hunter Pence of a possible extra-base hit and an RBI when he caught Pence's fly ball on the run one step before the uphill slope in center at Minute Maid Park known as Tal's Hill.
"I was thinking about it, because I fouled that ball off my foot and I thought it would be a bad time to let a ball go over my head right there," Edmonds said. "The ball got elevated, and I got a good jump on it. I've been here a lot, so I knew where I was at. I tried not to panic."
Edmonds has made similar highlight-reel catches when he patrolled center field for the St. Louis Cardinals.
"That hill is right there," Edmonds said. "They've got some guys who can hit the ball up there. You've always got to have it in the back of your mind. Fortunately, I was in the right place."
"What a great play," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "Going up that hill and keeping your balance, keeping your concentration and gloving it over your back. That's as nice a play as a center fielder can make."
Houston closed to 3-2 on Bourn's RBI single in the fifth. But Derrek Lee, who was 2-for-25 in his last six games, delivered a one-out, RBI single in the Cubs' seventh to go ahead, 4-2, and Ryan Theriot added an RBI single in the eighth. Ramirez connected in the ninth, driving in Lee, who had doubled, which prompted many of the 32,458 fans to head for the heat and humidity outside.
Carlos Marmol saved the game in the eighth, when he entered with two on and none out and had to face the meat of the Astros' order in Tejada, Berkman and Carlos Lee. Marmol retired all three and got Berkman out on a checked-swing third strike.
"We weren't going to mess around," Soto said of his approach with Berkman. "[Marmol's] slider is his best pitch, so we went with his best stuff and nasty pitches. We're not going to give him anything close."
The Cubs are off to their best start since 1985, and this is the fifth time in the last 70 years they have posted at least 27 wins in the first 44 games.
"We wanted to come in here and play well the first game and get a win, and that's exactly what we did," Piniella said. "We swung the bats, and we pitched well."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.