Highlight reel for Soto just gets longer
Tying homer on Thursday adds to 'really crazy' year for catcher
CHICAGO -- What a week for Geovany Soto.
Last Sunday, he was behind the plate to catch Carlos Zambrano's no-hitter. On Thursday, he delivered a game-tying three-run homer with two outs in the ninth that forced extra innings against Milwaukee. The Cubs rallied to win, 7-6, on Derrek Lee's RBI single in the 12th.
The Cubs' magic number to clinch the National League Central is two. A win on Friday, coupled with a loss by the Brewers, who play at Cincinnati, would secure their second straight title.
And Soto has been a key factor in the team's success.
"I was surprised when I came over here and first had a chance to work with him," Chicago pitcher Rich Harden said of the young catcher, who is a leading candidate for NL Rookie of the Year. "For a rookie, he's got a very good idea back there. It's not just handling the pitching staff and calling pitches but at the plate, he's done some amazing things. From what I've seen, he's been a huge part of this team and hopefully will be for the rest of the season."
The Cubs had three hits before the ninth inning started, and two of those were solo homers by Aramis Ramirez and Jim Edmonds. Ramirez doubled with two outs in the ninth and scored on Edmonds' single. Mark DeRosa then singled to set up Soto who connected off the first pitch from Milwaukee's Salomon Torres.
It was Soto's 23rd homer, and he's two shy of the Cubs rookie record of 25 set by Billy Williams in 1961. Mike Piazza has the most by a rookie catcher, hitting 35 in 1993.
Soto has 86 RBIs and is tied for fourth all-time among Cubs rookies in a season. Williams had 86 in 1961.
"I was just trying to get a pitch to hit and he left a fastball up," Soto said of his at-bat in the ninth. "I thought he was going to throw a sinker down and in or at least down and away and make me hit a ground ball. He left it up and I managed to hit it."
The Brewers' outfielders didn't move as Soto's ball headed for the Wrigley Field bleachers.
"You never know with this wind," Soto said. "I got all of that one and I looked up and it was for sure gone. I was excited for me and my teammates."
With the win, the Cubs took the series.
"Personally, I needed that and we needed that as a team," Soto said. "We have a good club. It's good to see stuff like that happening. There are good vibes in the clubhouse and we feel good right now."
Where does Thursday's homer rank among Soto's personal highlights?
"To be honest with you, I don't know," he said. "This year has been really, really crazy for me. I'm just here for one reason and that's to win, and I want to keep going."
It's been a really, really crazy week when you factor in the no-hitter last Sunday, the first by the Cubs in 36 years.
"I've been having a lot of big moments lately," Soto said. "It felt really good that I could come through for my team right there."
Kerry Wood has 30 saves, Ryan Dempster has won a career-high 16 games, Zambrano notched the no-hitter, Ramirez has 100-plus RBIs and Alfonso Soriano has 29 homers despite missing more than six weeks.
Who's the MVP on the Cubs? Maybe it's Soto.
"Let's just wait," manager Lou Piniella said. "We have two more games that we have to get in the 'W' column. Right now, what this team shows is it's a team. We get contributions throughout. We've got people here who have done wonderful jobs, but we have a lot of them. I don't get into these award things. Let's keep thinking team and win a few more baseball games."
Soto prefers to think "team."
"You can see it," the young catcher said. "Every day it's a different person. It's not like every day is Soriano and 'Ramy' -- well, they're pretty much every day. We've got a lot of guys who can get it done, [Reed Johnson] and Edmonds. We've got guys who have done great throughout the whole year. It's not the same guy."
It's been Soto more times than not.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.