Win gives Cubs breathing room at top

Win gives Cubs breathing room

CHICAGO -- Alfonso Soriano and the Cubs can breathe a little easier.

Matt Murton and Soriano hit back-to-back home runs with two outs in the sixth inning Thursday night to power the Cubs to a 5-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, opening a 2 1/2-game lead in the National League Central.

"[A 2 1/2-game lead] is better than the other way," Chicago's Derrek Lee said. "We'll take the 2 1/2. It was a good series for us. Now we have to keep the intensity up and not let down."

For Soriano, it was a relief. He struck out in his first three at-bats and was booed by some of the 40,790 fans at Wrigley Field. Activated from the disabled list Tuesday, he had one single in 11 at-bats. Remember, he didn't get a chance to rehab at Class A Peoria.

"I think my leg can be 100 percent -- the problem is my mind," Soriano said. "I have to get more confident in my legs. My mind, I think if I put too much [pressure on my leg] it'll be sore. Every day I feel better. I hope in a couple days I'll feel 100 percent."

There were two outs in the sixth before Murton launched his fifth homer off a 3-2 pitch from Chris Capuano (5-12) to go ahead, 4-3. Before the applause had quieted, Soriano connected on his 19th and first since July 28 off a 1-0 pitch. The Cubs have been power-challenged, ranking 14th in the National League in home runs.

Soriano heard the early boos.

"Those guys pay their money to do whatever they want in the game," he said. "As long as I'm concentrating to play nine innings, it's OK. My first three at-bats weren't good. You have to play nine innings."

Speaking of the ninth, Ryan Dempster picked up an interesting save. Milwaukee had two on and two outs in the ninth, and Cubs manager Lou Piniella opted to intentionally walk Prince Fielder to face Corey Hart.

"In the ninth inning, you really hate to put the winning run on base, but if Fielder had beaten us, I would've needed three martinis to get to bed," Piniella said. "We respect the other hitters, but Fielder is a big guy in the middle part of that lineup. We weren't going to give him a chance to beat us."

Dempster walked Hart to force in a run but got Kevin Mench to hit into a forceout and end the game.


"This is what you go to Spring Training for, that's what you posture for all summer long to get to this point. What you find out in September is if you're good enough."
-- Lou Piniella

"In my four years here, that's the loudest I've ever heard the stadium," Dempster said.

Carlos Marmol (4-1) picked up the win in relief, striking out five of the eight batters he faced.

Milwaukee took a 2-0 lead on Rickie Weeks' leadoff homer and Mench's RBI double off Chicago starter Ted Lilly, who needed 38 pitches to get through the first.

"It was tough," Lilly said. "I've got to give credit to that lineup. They're going to battle you and force you to make good pitches. Tonight I was having a hard time doing that. They're really good at getting in good hitting counts. It was frustrating, but you know what, I'll be able to sleep well tonight. I'm certainly happy with the end result."

Mark DeRosa hit a two-run single in the Cubs' second to tie the game, and Jacque Jones smacked an RBI single to go ahead. The Brewers tied the game at 3 in the third on Mench's sacrifice fly.

The Cubs had a scare in the Milwaukee seventh when Lee nearly impaled himself on the plexiglass rimming the top of the brick wall trying to catch a popup by Fielder in foul territory.

"I landed funny on that glass, and it took my breath away," Lee said. "I don't know where I was. That ball was moving so much, I lost completely where I was on the field. I don't even know where the ball went."

Lee stayed in the game and led off the next inning.

"This guy's a trooper," Piniella said. "You need a tow truck to get him out of the game."

Milwaukee manager Ned Yost tried to take advantage of the Cubs' 12-20 record against left-handed starters by inserting rookie Manny Parra in the rotation. That backfired. Parra suffered a bruised left thumb and exited after three innings, three runs, three hits, three walks and three strikeouts.

With the win, the Cubs won the series and finished the season matchup against Milwaukee 9-6. They'll be keeping an eye on each other the rest of the way.

"This is what you go to Spring Training for, that's what you posture for all summer long to get to this point," Piniella said. "What you find out in September is if you're good enough. It's really a good alternative from playing spoiler roles.

"It's there for us if we want it, it's there for us if you play well enough," Piniella said. "That's what you play for all year long, to get in this position. Now we'll find out."

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