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Cubs homer past Braves in finale

Cubs homer past Braves in finale

ATLANTA -- Derrek Lee may need a day off now and then because of his wrist, but on Monday, he showed why the Cubs need him in the lineup.

Lee and Jacque Jones each hit three-run homers, and Lee added a solo shot for his first two-homer game of the season, to back Rich Hill and lift the Cubs to an 8-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

"A pair of three-run homers really helped, big time," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "It feels good to win, hear the music, hear the guys talking. It's been a morgue in here the last three days."

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With the win, the Cubs snapped a nine-game road losing streak. It was Chicago's fourth win in its last 22 games, and Hill has two of those victories.

The odds were in the Braves' favor of completing a season-series sweep. They had John Smoltz starting, and he had a 15-4 career record against the Cubs.

"It wasn't looking too good -- they're trying to sweep us with Smoltz on the mound," Lee said. "That's why it's a funny game. You just never know."

Hill (5-6) won his second consecutive decision, relying again on his fastball and curve. The rookie left-hander struck out six and gave up two runs (one earned) on six hits and two walks over 5 2/3 innings. He has given up two runs or less in seven of his last eight starts.

"Every time I go out there, I try to give eveything I can, and that's it," Hill said. "Go as hard as you can as long as you can. That's it."

"He's tough," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said of Hill. "He's going to be a real good one. He's a good guy to have in your rotation, that's for sure."

Hill was pulled after throwing 120 pitches, the last 10 to pinch-hitter Brayan Pena.

"Tip your hat -- it was a great battle and he won," Hill said of Pena, who got an RBI single.

Lee made up for it. He belted a three-run blast in the third and led off the fifth with another home run for his first two-homer game since Aug. 28, 2005. In 13 games since coming off the disabled list, Lee is batting .370 (17-for-46) with 14 RBIs.

"We haven't seen him drive the ball like that since last year," Baker said of Lee. "He's big in the lineup. He does so many things to help."

"I just swing," Lee said. "If it goes that way, it goes that way. It felt good to drive a ball that way [to right on the first homer], yeah."

He will continue to play two on, one off, and doesn't expect to be 100-percent healthy until next Spring Training. His wrist is OK now, but it still needs time to heal.

"It's feeling good right now," he said. "Not picking up a bat for three, four months will be really good."

Juan Pierre and Freddie Bynum both singled to start the game against Smoltz (12-9), and two outs later, Jones hit his 24th home run to go ahead, 3-0.

Bynum walked to open the Chicago third, and Smoltz then called catcher Brian McCann and home-plate umpire Jeff Kellogg to the mound. After some discussion, and a couple pitches, Smoltz went back to work. He walked Aramis Ramirez, and Lee smacked the first pitch he saw over the right-field fence for his seventh home run and a 6-0 lead.

Smoltz then exited with a strained right adductor, giving up six runs on six hits and two walks over two-plus innings. It marked the first time he's lost to the Cubs since April 6, 1993, when Jose Guzman threw a one-hit shutout.

"I was telling somebody today, you end up having your best breakout game against their best pitcher," Baker said. "We'll take it."

Matt Diaz reached on an error by third baseman Ramirez with one out in the fourth, and eventually scored on Martin Prado's single. Ramirez then made a diving catch of Marcus Giles' line drive to end the inning, and strand two runners. Ramirez added an RBI single in the sixth as well.

Ryan Dempster pitched the seventh, not the ninth, in hopes of getting back on track.

"I was trying to get him a clean inning, low pressure, like he hasn't had in a while," Baker said. "This way, when he goes back in there next time, he can build on that. He's still my closer. I wanted to put him in a low-pressure situation. Hopefully he can get better and better and better and back to the Demp we all know."

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

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