Two former White Sox players, Aaron Rowand and Tadahito Iguchi, both homered to power the Philadelphia Phillies to a 4-1 victory over the Cubs, who missed a chance to move into a tie for first in the National League Central with the idle Brewers.
"It's still early," Chicago's Ryan Theriot said. "I could care less who's leading during the season. It's who's in first at the end."
Both homers came off Ted Lilly (11-5), and snapped his winning streak at seven games. The left-hander was charged with four runs on seven hits and three walks over five innings. He had given up seven runs over 34 1/3 innings in his last five starts. Lilly had problems controlling his fastball.
"I was getting on the side of the ball," Lilly said. "Early in the game, I didn't make the adjustment. After the first couple innings, I knew I had to. It's one of the things Larry [Rothschild, pitching coach] refers to as running at the plate, where my body is going early and my arm is trying to catch up and my arm's on the side."
Lilly threw behind Jimmy Rollins in the first, and the southpaw said it was because he was trying to force the ball in.
"It was just bad," Lilly said.
It was also disappointing because Lilly had been looking forward to this matchup with Phillies lefty Cole Hamels (12-5).
"I was trying to get the momentum going in our favor," Lilly said. "I knew he had been throwing the ball well. This was a matchup I was looking forward to, and I certainly wanted better results than this.
"I'm disappointed in my performance, for sure," he said. "I had the opportunity to step up and stay with him out there. I wanted to match him. He outpitched me. I've seen him pitch a couple times now and I'm impressed with his repertoire and the way he pitches. He's very good."
Hamels served up a solo homer to Theriot leading off the sixth, but was otherwise in control. The lefty struck out eight and gave up three hits and two walks over eight innings.
"He's got one of the best changeups around, and when you're locating that as well as throwing a curveball, slider and fastball, it's tough to get in a groove offensively," Theriot said.
Chicago now is 1-5 against southpaw starters this month, and 9-16 for the season. It seems too lopsided, considering the right-handed bats in the Cubs lineup.
"I don't know. I don't have a definitive answer for you," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.
Rowand connected on his three-run shot in the third after Iguchi walked with one out and reached third one out later on Ryan Howard's double. Iguchi, whom Philadelphia acquired last week from the White Sox, led off the fifth with his first homer.
Maybe it was the ex-White Sox factor. Rowand also played for the Cubs' crosstown rival.
"I noticed that," Piniella said. "I had that flash go through my mind in the course of the ballgame. Give them credit."
The Cubs have slowly worked their way back into contention. They were 8 1/2 games back on June 24.
"It's a nice climb, it really is," Piniella said. "The way our roster is set up, we're nice and young on the bench and you'll see that we'll be resting this team and rotating around a little bit."
That's why Matt Murton and Angel Pagan were in the lineup Monday against Hamels. What's also helped turn things around is improved defense, hot hitting by Alfonso Soriano and hot pitching by Carlos Zambrano.
"We've got a nice blend here," Piniella said. "Are we entirely out of the woods? No. But we have a nice blend here of veterans who are really good players and young kids who add some enthusiasm and contribute to the equation. We just have to continue to play one at a time and see what happens."
The Phillies will be lucky if they leave Wrigley Field with 25 healthy players. Shane Victorino injured his right calf and exited. Theriot lined a ball off Hamels' right foot in the fourth and right fielder Michael Bourn hurt his ankle chasing Soriano's foul ball on the uneven ground near the visitor's bullpen.
Both teams are trying not to look too far ahead. Philadelphia won its fourth in a row, and gained ground on idle New York in the NL East. They have the second-best record in the National League since June 3; the Cubs are a Major League-best 33-18 in that stretch.
"This is what you go to Spring Training for, this is what you play for," Piniella said of the close races. "You can't get caught up in this thing. It's one game at a time, one opponent at a time. If you do it any differently, you're looking for problems."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.