The mission is to rally from 10 1/2 games back in the National League Central -- where the Cubs stood behind the Reds at the All-Star break -- and get to the postseason, and the Cubs improved to 2-0 in their "new season" with a 4-3 win Friday over the Phillies.
Marlon Byrd hit a game-tying two-run homer in the sixth and Ramirez belted a go-ahead solo shot with two outs in the eighth for the win. Ramirez is batting .400 in July with five homers and 14 RBIs, and finally, the middle of the Cubs' order is producing.
"If that continues," manager Lou Piniella said, "it's like a little forest fire that starts spreading a little bit. Let's keep working and keep playing and hope we keep winning some baseball games."
With the game tied at 3 and two outs in the eighth against Ryan Madson (2-1), Ramirez connected on a 3-2 pitch, launching the ball into the left-field bleachers.
"He's a superstar," Byrd said of the third baseman, who batted .207 before the All-Star break. "That's just Ramy being Ramy. He struggled with his [left] thumb all season long. That's what happens with a star -- he carries the team and it's fun to watch."
How much longer Cubs fans will get to watch Lilly is to be determined. The left-hander has been mentioned often in trade rumors for teams looking for starting pitching. He entered the game with the lowest run support of any starter in the Major Leagues (2.41 runs per game), and the three he received Friday were the most he's gotten this season.
Lilly retired the first 10 batters he faced before Shane Victorino launched his home run into the left-field bleachers in the fourth. Then Lilly helped himself in the fifth. Ramirez singled, and one out later, Phillies starter Joe Blanton walked Alfonso Soriano. Both moved up on Starlin Castro's groundout before Blanton intentionally walked Geovany Soto to face Lilly, who fell behind 0-2 and then drew a walk to force in a run for his first RBI since May 2, 2009.
"That was kind of an out-of-body experience," Lilly said of his at-bat. "I don't know why I swung at the first pitch I swung at and I don't know why I laid off the ones I did. Fortunately, it worked out."
"I saw that zero batting average up there," Piniella said of Lilly, who was 0-for-25 coming into the game. "I was hoping he'd get a digit. A walk was fine."
"They were all close pitches," Blanton said. "He just didn't swing at them. It was pretty frustrating. I still shouldn't have walked him, but what can I do?"
Lilly struck out the first two batters he faced in the Phillies' sixth, part of a season-high 10 that he fanned in the game, but walked Jayson Werth. That's a bad move on a day when the wind's blowing out at Wrigley Field. Ryan Howard launched his 20th homer to straightaway center, the ball landing on the roof of the batter's eye suite. It was the seventh homer by Howard off a lefty this season.
"The one to Howard is one I'd like to take back," Lilly said. "He's one of those guys who doesn't miss them too often for singles. ... When you get in a situation like that in a close game, you have to make better pitches than I did."
But what about all these rumors?
"I know for sure there are teams that have come back from as far as we are and have won the division," Lilly said. "I'd like to be a part of that here. That's my thought. I'm pretty optimistic about it. I know we have a long ways to go to make something like that happen, but we do have talent. I'd certainly like to win a division here."
"I believe we have until the 31st," Byrd said of the upcoming non-waiver Trade Deadline. "We're going to make that push."
It helps that Ramirez is contributing. He doubled with two outs in the sixth, and Byrd answered Howard with his 10th home run off the first pitch from Blanton to tie the game at 3.
"Going into that at-bat, I had no clue what [Blanton] was going to throw me," Byrd said. "I just tried to see the ball and got a pitch to drive."
Lilly didn't get the win but was able to rebound from two out-of-character starts. A few minor mechanical adjustments made the difference. There's been no issues with his left shoulder, which required arthroscopic surgery last November.
"It's just about winning," Lilly said. "We're trying to do something crazy here, which is come back from nine games or wherever we are."
The Cubs' win put them 8 1/2 games behind the Reds, who were set to play the Rockies later Friday.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less