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09/11/08 1:05 AM ET

Lilly calms concerns, stifles Cards

Cubs retain 4 1/2-game edge in division behind lefty's gem

ST. LOUIS -- Ted Lilly did not hear Lou Piniella's rant after Tuesday's game, but the left-hander got the message.

Lilly pitched eight solid innings and survived a head-on collision at home plate as the Cubs took advantage of two errors by third baseman Felipe Lopez in a four-run second inning to beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 4-3, on Wednesday night.

"We were struggling to win," Chicago's Alfonso Soriano said. "This was huge for us. We had a little frustration, but with the win tonight, everybody can come tomorrow a little more relaxed."

Chicago won for the second time in its past 10 games and preserved a 4 1/2-game lead in the National League Central over Milwaukee, which beat Cincinnati earlier Wednesday. Lilly (14-9), who lasted two innings in his last start, against the Reds, struck out five and gave up five hits over eight efficient innings to match his longest outing of the year.

On Tuesday, Piniella had said the Cubs needed to be more aggressive and kick some butt. Did Lilly hear his manager's tirade?

"No, I wasn't [aware of it]," Lilly said. "I have no idea what he said, honestly."

So it wasn't discussed among the players?

"He was upset with our team?" Lilly asked. "He might be over 100, but he still has a lot of fire in him. He hasn't lost that, especially when we're losing tough games. That's going to tick him off. I don't hold that against him. The guys know we've got to win. We've got to find ways to win."

One hundred years old?

"He looks pretty good," Lilly said with a smile.

Kerry Wood looked a little shaky when he served up a two-run homer to Ryan Ludwick with one out in the ninth, but he held on for his 29th save. Piniella thought briefly about letting Lilly finish what he started.

"We've got a closer, and we need for Woody to win," Piniella said. "That's his job. Teddy did his. We need for Woody to get nice and sharp, and the only way to do that is for him to get some work."

The Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the first, but Kosuke Fukudome, Mark DeRosa and Felix Pie each singled in the Chicago second, with Fukudome scoring on Pie's hit. Lilly bunted for a sacrifice and was safe on a fielder's choice, while DeRosa also was safe at third on the play as Lopez had trouble handling catcher Yadier Molina's throw. Soriano then hit one to Lopez, whose throw to second skipped into center for his second error. Two runs scored to make it 3-1.

"You never know what [Ted] Lilly's doing. I don't know what he has in his mind."
-- Alfonso Soriano

Derrek Lee hit a grounder to shortstop Cesar Izturis, who fired home to get Lilly. The pitcher crashed full-speed into Molina and knocked him over. Molina would later leave the game with a bruised left thigh. Aramis Ramirez added an RBI single to make it 4-1.

"[Lilly] wasn't supposed to go on that ball," Piniella said. "The infield was in, and it was supposed to go through. I guess he got anxious."

Keep in mind that Lilly is the only pitcher on the Cubs with a stolen base.

"First of all, I hope he's not hurt," Lilly said. "It's not something I was trying to do. It's almost more dangerous if I slide, and my only other option was to stand there and let him tag me. At that point in the game, if we can get another run, it's useful. I don't know if I'm going to go eight innings and not give up another run. I feel like we have to do whatever we can to score more runs."

His teammates didn't say anything when Lilly came into the dugout. Soriano's reaction?

"Surprised," Soriano said. "You never know what Lilly's doing. I don't know what he has in his mind. Thank God, he didn't hurt himself. I think that's the key of the game tonight."

Lilly admitted he read the play wrong.

"I thought the hop was high enough that I could score," he said. "I gave us an out that maybe we didn't need to have."

The Cardinals may have sent a message during Lilly's at-bat in the third when starter Braden Looper's first pitch to the lefty was high and inside.

"He might have done that on purpose," Lilly said. "I think they might have felt like it was unnecessary for me to [crash into Molina]. I felt it was right in front of the plate, and there was no where else to go."

It was a big play. Soriano made one that turned out to be even bigger in the third. St. Louis had runners at first and second with two outs when Albert Pujols singled to left. Soriano snared the single and threw Izturis out at home, firing a perfect strike to catcher Geovany Soto, who blocked the plate.

"No question about it that [Izturis] wanted to try to score on that play," Soriano said. "It's two outs, and I said to myself, 'If they hit it here, and I have the opportunity to throw, I want to throw because I know he's running.'"

Piniella may not have broadcast his message very well Tuesday, but he wasn't alone in feeling that the Cubs hadn't played as well as they should.

"It was not only Lou," Soriano said. "Everybody was not happy. We weren't playing the way we were supposed to play. Now, we're more relaxed. I think everybody can sleep good tonight."

"It was a good win," Piniella said. "We needed it."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.