Soriano's return sparks Cubs' bats
Lee homers, Johnson hits slam in Lilly's 10th victory of year
PHOENIX -- Alfonso Soriano is back, and although he had one of the Cubs' 10 hits in a 10-6 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday night, his return was a big boost.
"He makes it fun to come to work," Chicago's Reed Johnson said of Soriano. "I think everybody will say he's just a presence and a leader for us. Any time you have a guy like that out, it's tough on you."
Johnson made it easy on the Cubs, hitting a grand slam to highlight a six-run eighth inning, and Derrek Lee added a solo homer to back Ted Lilly and lead the Cubs to victory, maintaining sole possession of first in the National League Central.
Lilly (10-6) was the ultimate multi-tasker. He hit an RBI single, stole a base, ended a rundown, threw out a baserunner and posted a quality start. The lefty joined teammates Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano, both of whom have won at least 10 each, and the Cubs are the only team with a trio of double-digit winners.
"Obviously, the big blow was the grand slam, but Lilly did his part -- a little base hit and then he acted like Maury Wills stealing third," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.
Did Lilly have the green light?
"He had the amber light," Piniella said.
"I think that means go ahead and go only if you're going to be safe," Lilly said.
What was he thinking?
"The hit, I don't know how to explain that one," Lilly said. "I felt like on the bases, I needed to take advantage of any opportunity there was to take a base."
Johnson cleared the bases with his slam, the second of his career and first since July 1, 2005, at Boston. A fan near the swimming pool in right at Chase Field appeared to lean over the fence and grabbed the ball, but the umpires ruled it was a home run.
"Someone said they saw it [on replay] and said it looked like a home run, so I've heard two different things," Johnson said of the possible fan interference. "I'll take it."
With the win, the Cubs held off the Milwaukee Brewers, who beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 3-0, and remain one game back.
"We've been putting a lot of pressure on our pitchers, and we know we have to step our game up a little bit to get the Brewers and Cardinals off our back," Johnson said. "Those are two teams who are going to be in it for the rest of the year. We've got our work cut out for us."
The Cubs now know they can win in Arizona, and not just in Cactus League games. Looking for more positives? Aramis Ramirez snapped an 0-for-26 skid with a single in the eighth. But the biggest bright spot was Soriano, who went 1-for-5 with an RBI in his first game back since June 11, when he was hit on the hand.
"It changes our lineup and gives it a different feel," Piniella said about having Soriano at the top of the order. "We've needed this for a while. Guys feel good about it, hopefully they can swing bats better as a group."
"He brings a special kind of energy along with his talent to the dugout and the field," Lilly said of the Cubs' leadoff man. "That kind of feeds throughout, and it's contagious in the clubhouse. He's a boost to our club."
Soriano had no pain, no problems and plenty to look forward to.
"I hope I can continue to feel like I did tonight," Soriano said. "I felt very comfortable at home plate and I was a little surprised because I haven't played for seven weeks."
Lee gave Chicago a boost when he connected on his 16th homer with two outs in the first off Doug Davis (3-5) to end a 26-game homerless streak, the third-longest such stretch of his career. His longest was a 34-game stretch May 11-June 23, 1998.
Tony Clark's two-run homer in the fourth put the D-backs ahead, 2-1, but Chicago rallied in the fifth. The Cubs had runners at second and third, and Lilly bounced a single over third baseman Mark Reynolds to drive in a run and tie the game at 2. Soriano grounded out to allow another run to score. Lilly stole third, the second theft in his career, and scored on Ryan Theriot's groundout to make it 4-2.
Conor Jackson hit an RBI triple with none out in the Arizona fifth, but Lilly regrouped and struck out Reynolds and tagged Jackson on a 5-2-5-1 rundown as Chris Young hit into a fielder's choice. Young had reached second on the play and tried to steal third but was thrown out.
"That's another time when we caught a break," Lilly said.
The Cubs may have been offensively challenged on this 2-4 road trip, but they weren't worried.
"We've got a lot of talent," Lilly said. "At the same time, our guys are human and they're going to go through periods when they're going to scuffle a little bit. I really feel like it's a matter of time. I know we've been through stretches when we have a hard time but we're still playing hard and still playing good baseball.
"You see what [Ramirez] is doing at third, even though he's struggling -- he's playing really well defensively. We're playing hard as a club, and I think we're going to do that throughout the year. We're not going to panic. I think it's going to get real fun in September."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.