Big Z rides three homers to victory
Fukudome, Soriano, Baker deliver all runs with long balls
CINCINNATI -- Carlos Zambrano redeemed himself on Saturday after a disastrous Opening Day start, while the rest of the Cubs seem to be digging the long ball.
Pinch-hitter Jeff Baker hit a tiebreaking homer in the eighth, Kosuke Fukudome belted a two-run shot in the fourth and Alfonso Soriano added a solo blast in the fifth to lift the Cubs and Zambrano to a 4-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds.
So far, 12 of the Cubs' total 17 runs have come on eight homers in their five games. New hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo isn't telling the Cubs to aim for the fences; it just looks that way.
"I think Rudy's philosophy is scoring runs, however you want to do it," Baker said. "[Home runs] are just one facet of the game. Rudy's a complete hitting coach. He doesn't get into one area -- 'Hey, we're going to try to hit homers,' or 'Hey, we're going to try to play small ball.'"
"We do need to sustain some rallies a little bit," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.
They've got time. Zambrano needed to show that last Monday's game was a fluke. He struck out nine over seven innings for the win, and lasted much longer than his 1 1/3 innings on Opening Day. Zambrano (1-1) was charged with three runs on six hits and finished strong, as Drew Stubbs was called out to end the seventh on a 94-mph fastball.
"My last game, I was trying to locate my fastball too much," Zambrano said. "I'm a sinker pitcher, and that's the mentality I have to have -- just throw the ball.
"That's why I was watching the [radar] gun. When I saw 89 [mph] on the board, that's not my pitch. My pitch is 93-, 94-, 92-[mph] sinker. That's why I was watching the scoreboard ... is because I want to throw the pitch I want. I want to throw my sinker and let my sinker run as much as I can."
Carlos Marmol pitched the ninth and improved to 2-for-2 in save situations. The Cubs had lost two of their past three games because of the bullpen, and Piniella said he'll let the starters go deeper. That's good, said Zambrano, who then began multiplying to figure out how many innings he'll finish with. His goal is 200-plus.
"They asked me how I was feeling and I said, 'Good,'" Zambrano said. "Plus, I think I was fresh from my last start. I was out there for 1 1/3 innings, so basically this was my first start.
"I was excited today. I was hungry to go out there. My first outing was not good, and I was anxious to go out there and pitch my game, and I did it today, thank God. Everything was good."
The Reds opened a 3-0 lead after Brandon Phillips launched a 2-0 pitch from Zambrano for his first homer, a two-run shot.
Cincinnati's Aaron Harang retired the first nine batters before Ryan Theriot singled to lead off the fourth. Theriot moved up on a wild pitch and started toward third as the ball skipped into shallow center. But he collided with shortstop Orlando Cabrera. Theriot and Piniella argued that Cabrera interfered, but second-base umpire CB Bucknor didn't budge.
Fukudome settled the discussion with his first homer to close to 3-2. Soriano led off the fifth with his blast to tie the game. Told that Fukudome posted a .327 average in April last year, Piniella joked that he was a "Masters player," and in sync with the golf tournament.
"This is the year I feel he'll break out and have a nice solid offensive year," Piniella said of the Japanese outfielder. "We know he can play defense."
"I'm glad to hear that," Fukudome said, "but I don't want to finish that way just in April."
With the game tied in the eighth, Baker stepped in for Mike Fontenot and drove a 1-1 pitch from Arthur Rhodes (0-1) to left-center. It was Baker's third career pinch-hit homer.
"I don't try to do too much pinch-hitting," Baker said. "It's just about getting a good pitch to hit and not missing it."
Again, Jaramillo is not preaching home runs.
"If you run into a tough pitcher, you might not get that pitch you can drive out of the yard," Baker said. "If that's your only source of offense, it can be a long day."
Give credit to the defense as well. Fontenot made a great grab of Joey Votto's ball in the fifth and Derrek Lee may have saved the game with his leaping catch of Jay Bruce's liner in the eighth to strand a runner. With a win on Sunday in the series finale, the Cubs could head home with a .500 record.
"This road trip is funny -- you could flip it around and we could be whatever it is and one [loss], or on the flip side, we could be one [win] and whatever," Baker said. "It'd be nice to come out tomorrow and get the win and go home with a split."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.