Soriano's homers lift Lilly, Cubs over Bucs
Chicago matches season-high run support for sharp lefty
CHICAGO -- Alfonso Soriano may be the one to lift the Cubs out of their offensive doldrums.
Soriano hit a pair of solo shots for his 25th career multi-homer game to back Ted Lilly and boost the Cubs to a 3-1 victory Tuesday night over the Pirates. It was Chicago's third win over Pittsburgh in 11 meetings this year.
"Sori's one of those players that when he gets going, he can carry the team," Chicago's Ryan Theriot said.
The Cubs need a boost. They have scored three or fewer runs in eight of their last 10 games, including one run or fewer in five of those contests.
Soriano hit both of his homers with two outs. He launched his first of the game off the first pitch from Jeff Karstens (2-3) with two outs in the fourth, and connected on a 1-2 pitch from the right-hander with two outs in the sixth. It's the left fielder's second multi-homer game this season; he also hit a pair May 2 against Arizona.
Soriano now has multi-hit efforts in five of his last eight starts, and is 12-for-31 since June 20.
"Let's hope [he's getting hot]," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "We need a couple of these bats to come alive and start making some noise."
The biggest difference this season is that Soriano is healthy. He's had no problems with his legs, and being reunited with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo -- who worked with Soriano in Texas for two seasons -- has helped.
"When I have confidence in my hands, I let the ball come to me," Soriano said. "Now I'm comfortable and believe in my hands and I want to hit it hard and see what happens."
He's also inspired by teammates Marlon Byrd and Starlin Castro. Byrd, Soriano says, always plays hard, while "young Castro" has the energy.
"I want to do the same," Soriano said.
But Soriano also helps the rest of the Cubs. He's been outspoken regarding the Carlos Zambrano tirade, trying to reach out to the pitcher and also saying how much the Cubs need to move on. The left fielder downplays his role.
"I don't believe in leaders," Soriano said. "I believe in coming to the ballpark and working hard and playing hard, and that's what I try to do. We have 25 players on the team, and 25 guys are the leaders."
"He's always happy, and it's such a great example," Lilly said of Soriano. "Whether he went 0-for-4 or 2-for-4 with a couple homers or 3-for-4 with a game-winning homer, he's pretty much the same. He pulls for his teammates regardless of how he's doing. He's clearly a talented player and a special individual, too. I've always believed he's one of those guys who makes the guys around him a little bit better."
Lilly (3-6) benefited from Soriano's surge. The lefty had received two or fewer runs in 11 of his 12 starts heading into the game, and the three runs Tuesday matched a season high. Against the Pirates, Lilly gave up one run on six hits over seven innings for his second win in his last three decisions. Piniella felt the pitcher would be a little stronger because he had been shortened up after his last start in Seattle.
"There's no exact science to it," Lilly said. "I was able to make some key pitches in the seventh."
The Pirates had two on and one out in the seventh, but Lilly got Ronny Cedeno to pop up and then struck out pinch-hitter Ryan Church on a slider.
"In the past, I've been hanging a lot of those pitches," Lilly said. "Guys either put a good swing on it and drive it, or if I haven't been throwing it good, they flick it out to the outfield for hits. I was able to get on top of it and bury it down and away."
"Lilly did a good job all night," Karstens said. "That's what he does, he mixes his speeds, he throws a changeup inside. You would think not to do it, but he does it and it works."
The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the second when Koyie Hill doubled, moved up on a passed ball, and scored on Castro's sacrifice fly. After Soriano's first blast, Pittsburgh's Ryan Doumit closed the gap to 2-1 with a leadoff homer in the fifth.
But Soriano gave Lilly a cushion with his second homer and 13th of the year. He had 14 home runs by the All-Star break last year.
"We all enjoy watching him have fun, because he's such a vibrant, energetic player," Lilly said of Soriano. "He's the type of guy the other guys feed off of. This is a guy who's capable of doing this type of damage."
Soriano does have fun. Before his last at-bat in the eighth, he was blowing kisses to his family, who were seated near the Cubs' dugout. His children get upset if he doesn't acknowledge them during the game.
"That's my personality -- always happy," Soriano said. "God blessed me with the talent to play this game, and I love to play the game. Every day, I come to the ballpark and put on the uniform and that's what makes me happy. That's me."
The Cubs' clubhouse was rattled by Zambrano's blowup. He will be examined on Wednesday in New York by doctors appointed by Major League Baseball and the Players Association to help him deal with anger issues. A meeting Saturday definitely helped players and staff clear the air.
"Overall, the general feeling is still the same," Lilly said. "We're hungry. I'll say that. We want to win. We know that we need to make a move. That [feeling] is not going to change if we were to have lost today -- we'll still go out there with the same attitude and mindset on Wednesday."
Just don't ask the pitcher for any tips on how to get out of the collective hitting funk.
"Obviously, you've seen me hit," Lilly said, "so I don't have any answers for them."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.