Johnson's homer lifts Cubs to wild win
Zambrano ejected in seventh; Fox, Blanco get in on action
CHICAGO -- Whether Carlos Zambrano's antics inspired the Cubs isn't clear. What is certain is that Reed Johnson backed up his talk with his bat, and Jake Fox and Andres Blanco came through in their first big league appearances this year.
Johnson smacked a tie-breaking solo homer with one out in the eighth inning to lift the Cubs to a 5-2 victory Wednesday over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a game in which Zambrano was ejected for arguing a close play at the plate.
With the game tied at 2 and one out in the Cubs' eighth against Jesse Chavez (0-2), Johnson launched a 1-1 pitch into the left-field bleachers for his second homer. He hit his first on Sunday in San Diego, and now has 10 RBIs in his last 11 games. Johnson admitted he didn't know Chavez too well.
"I got a straight fastball for a ball and then a fastball away that was pretty straight," Johnson said. "I hit a changeup in a good area up in the zone a little bit, and I was able to take advantage of it."
Fox and Blanco, called up from Triple-A Iowa earlier Wednesday, each delivered RBI doubles in the eighth to hand the win to Carlos Marmol (1-1), who had just rejoined the team after his wife gave birth to their second child. Kevin Gregg pitched the ninth for his seventh save.
Johnson hasn't gotten much playing time because of the overload of right-handed pitchers the Cubs have faced. Pittsburgh's Zach Duke was the seventh southpaw who has started against Chicago this year. That's the fewest number for a team in the Major Leagues. Good news for Johnson is that the Cubs will see three lefties when the Los Angeles Dodgers come to town Thursday for a four-game series.
"Reed's a nice player," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "He's getting some playing time, he's hit a couple home runs. Today was a huge home run to put us ahead.
"He's a player. He has a good attitude and a hustling style of play, and he's starting to get productive like he was last year."
Johnson helped the Cubs open a 2-0 lead in the first. Ryan Theriot singled with one out and scored on Milton Bradley's triple. One batter later, Bradley tallied on Johnson's groundout.
The Pirates collected seven hits off Zambrano, including Ramon Vazquez's two-out RBI single in the fourth. But Big Z's outing ended in the seventh. Nyjer Morgan had reached third on a single and fielding error by left fielder Alfonso Soriano. One out later, Zambrano threw a wild pitch and Morgan scampered home.
Cubs catcher Geovany Soto retrieved the ball and flipped it to Zambrano, who was covering at the plate. Morgan slid and appeared to sneak his left hand in, and home-plate umpire Mark Carlson called him safe. Zambrano argued, the two bumped briefly, and the pitcher was ejected. Zambrano then signaled as if to eject Carlson.
As the pitcher was walking off the field, he hurled the baseball into left-center field, and then threw his glove. He also took a bat to the Gatorade dispenser in the dugout.
On the plus side, Zambrano said he felt strong at the end of the game, which was his second start since coming off the disabled list because of a strained hamstring. Piniella said he planned on talking to Zambrano on Thursday after he'd had a chance to cool down.
Maybe Johnson should. The outfielder had a little chat with Bradley on Monday in an effort to get him back on track.
"I like to say things that are on my mind, especially to teammates," Johnson said. "No way is what I say toward my teammates ever anything other than encouragement and trying to get guys going in the right direction. You spend more time with these guys than you do your family. This is really a true family in here, and you're going to fight like brothers sometimes and get along like siblings as well.
"It's a situation where I think the best way to approach the game is police the dugout yourself. It can come from coaches, but it doesn't mean the same if it comes from your peers."
Don't be surprised if Zambrano's next.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.