Johnson, Cubs rob Brewers
Outfielder's catch takes away grand slam, preserves win
MILWAUKEE -- If someone had told Lou Piniella that the Cubs would kick off the season with a 4-2 road trip against National League Central opponents, he'd take it. And that's what they did.
The Cubs play their first home game of 2009 on Monday, heading to Wrigley Field after beating the Brewers, 8-5, on Sunday to take their second road series of the new season.
Alfonso Soriano belted his 51st career leadoff homer and Reed Johnson made the catch of the season -- even if it is only six games old -- when he robbed Prince Fielder of a potential grand slam to back Ryan Dempster.
Dempster (1-0) struck out six and served up six hits, including a home run to Corey Hart in the fourth, over six innings. But it was the hit that got away from Fielder that was the talk of the game.
Johnson had come into the game in the fourth for Milton Bradley, who had to leave because of a strained right groin. The Brewers loaded the bases with none out, and Fielder drove the ball to right. Johnson made a perfectly timed leap, reaching over the eight-foot-high wall to snare the ball.
"That's unbelievable," Soriano said. "That's the best catch I've seen in my career."
Fielder saluted Johnson with a tip of his batting helmet as he walked off the field.
"That's pretty classy," Piniella said. "Prince is a classy young man anyway."
Johnson was in the right place at the right time. Does Bradley make that catch?
"I don't know. Milton is a pretty good defender," said Brewers skipper Ken Macha, who managed Bradley in Oakland. "How am I going to figure that one out?"
"Not too many people can make that play," Fielder said. "I was a little bit [shocked]. I don't have a grand slam yet, so it would be pretty cool."
Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild had come out to the mound to talk to Dempster before Fielder's at-bat. The plan was to keep the runs to a minimum and try to limit Fielder to a sacrifice fly.
"He just happened to hit it in our bullpen and Reed went and caught it," Dempster said. "I've played 15 years in professional baseball and he's made the two best catches while I've been pitching. I'll have to buy him Culver's on the way home."
The Cubs had to pass a Culver's and the Mars Cheese Castle and a few McDonald's on the way back to Chicago on Sunday night in time for Monday's opener against the Rockies. The forecast is not good, but the mood will be.
Dempster improved to 9-2 in his career against the Brewers, which includes a 4-0 mark last year. It wasn't his best outing.
"I felt good," Dempster said, "but I wasn't getting ahead in the count as much as I'd like."
Soriano helped the Cubs get ahead when he launched the first pitch from Jeff Suppan (0-2) over the center-field fence before most of the crowd of 40,168 had settled in. It was the fourth homer in six games for Soriano, who hit two in the first month last year.
"I think it gives my team a lot of confidence," Soriano said. "If I feel good at home plate and he throws a fastball down the middle, I'll hit it hard."
The Brewers tied the game on J.J. Hardy's sacrifice fly in the first, but the Cubs took advantage of Suppan's command, or lack thereof, in the fourth as they loaded the bases on a hit batter, a walk and a single. Suppan then walked Koyie Hill, and one out later, walked two more. Suppan was lifted for Jorge Julio, who walked Derrek Lee to give the Cubs a 5-1 lead.
It's the ninth time a team has issued four bases-loaded walks in one inning since 1969, and second time in five days. The Braves also had the misfortune of doing so against the Phillies last Wednesday.
"When you're on the receiving end of walks, you feel good about it," Piniella said.
The Cubs won't know Bradley's status until Monday. They should get catcher Geovany Soto back on Wednesday. Soto has missed time with a sore shoulder. For the first time since 1988, the Cubs have taken the first two road series of the season. That'll give the fans Monday something to cheer about.
"A 4-2 road trip, I think everybody would've been pleased when we started the season this past Monday to take two out of three in your division's home ballparks -- you have to be pleased with it," Piniella said. "Now we're home and we'll see what happens."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.