Given rare start, Ward helps Cubs win

Given rare start, Ward helps Cubs win

WASHINGTON -- Daryle Ward took advantage of a rare night off for All-Star Derrek Lee, and the Cubs were able to gain some ground on the Milwaukee Brewers.

Ward hit an RBI double in the sixth and a sacrifice fly in the seventh to lift the Cubs to a 4-2 victory Thursday over the Washington Nationals and take the series. Chicago is 21-10 since June 3, the best record in baseball.

The win, coupled with Milwaukee's loss to Pittsburgh earlier in the day, helped the Cubs close to within 4 1/2 games of the Brewers in the National League Central.

The Cubs now have won four straight series for the first time since winning four in a row May 23-June 5, 2005, vs. Houston, Colorado, Los Angeles and San Diego.

"We were hoping to come in here and win three out of four," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "The standings take care of themselves when you play good consistent ball. I've been saying that. I don't look at the standings too much. I know if we win series, good things are going to happen and that's what we're trying to do."

With the game tied at 2 in the Chicago seventh, pinch-hitter Angel Pagan singled off Luis Ayala (0-1) and reached third on Alfonso Soriano's single. Mike Fontenot hit an RBI single, and Ward, making only his sixth start at first base in place of Lee, hit a sacrifice fly.

Ward entered the game with 48 at-bats; Lee has 299, and was just getting a break.

"I felt like a kid in the candy store," Ward said of the rare start. "I was excited to play. I had a lot of energy and swung the bat well, and I feel pretty good."

"He hit the ball hard just about every time," Piniella said of Ward. "It was a big game for him."

Ward also caught Brian Schneider's line drive to end the Nationals eighth and leave the bases loaded.

"That was routine," Ward said. "It was hit hard, but I'm supposed to make that play."

Will Ohman (1-4) picked up the win in relief, and Bob Howry pitched the ninth for his fourth save.

By the way, the Cubs now are homerless in their last five games, and have not connected since June 29 when Aramis Ramirez hit a walk-off blast against the Brewers. They have not gone more than five games without one since April 29-May 5, 2006, a seven-game stretch. They've figured out other ways to score.

With President George W. Bush in the stands at RFK Stadium, the Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the fourth on Ramirez's RBI single, driving in Ward who had singled and advanced on a wild pitch. Ramirez now has 11 RBIs in 11 games since returning from the disabled list.

Fontenot singled to open the sixth and scored on Ward's double to make it 2-0. One out later, starter Jason Bergmann was pulled for Billy Traber, who got pinch-hitter Mark DeRosa to hit a comebacker. But first baseman Dmitri Young couldn't hold onto Traber's relay throw, and DeRosa was safe on the error. Both Jones and Koyie Hill grounded out to end the rally.


"I felt like a kid in the candy store. I was excited to play. I had a lot of energy and swung the bat well, and I feel pretty good."
-- Daryle Ward

Fontenot was hitless in his last three games, and looking a little more human.

"I haven't had a hit in a couple games, and it's like, 'Oh no, what's going on,'" said Fontenot, still hitting a very respectable .365.

The Cubs avoided disaster in the Nationals' sixth. Ramirez and teammate Cesar Izturis just missed a serious collision when they both tried to field Ryan Zimmerman's grounder. Zimmerman was safe on the infield hit. Young then tripled to right to score Zimmerman, and scored on Austin Kearns' sacrifice fly to tie the game.

Neither Ramirez nor Izturis were hurt.

"That scared the heck out of me -- I thought, 'Oh boy, here we go,'" Piniella said.

Cliff Floyd did hurt his elbow in a collision with the wall in right trying to track down a fly ball, and will likely be limited to pinch-hit appearances over the weekend in the first-half finale against Pittsburgh.

Cubs starter Sean Marshall did not get a decision in his last start before the All-Star break. The lefty was coming off a 14-3 loss to Milwaukee in which he lasted two innings. On Thursday, Marshall gave up two runs, five hits and four walks over 5 1/3 innings.

"I bounced back from the rough start I had last outing," Marshall said of the positives he took from the game. "I made a couple bad pitches in the sixth inning, but the guys picked me up. I was glad to see that."

Both Marshall and lefty Rich Hill should benefit from the time off next week.

"We'll give them a little more time and a chance to freshen up their arms," Piniella said.

The Cubs knew the President was watching.

"That's exciting," Piniella said.

What the Cubs didn't know was that the Nationals had a 2-1 record with Bush in attendance. Now, it's 2-2.

"I had dinner with him this winter," Piniella said. "That took precedent."

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