Pinch-hitter Mike Fontenot hit a tie-breaking, three-run double with two outs in the seventh inning to lift the Cubs to a 9-6 victory over the Florida Marlins and regain sole possession of first in the National League Central.
The Cubs may not be watching the scoreboard, but the crowd of 41,107 was. There was a buzz when a "7" was posted in the fifth inning for the Houston Astros in their game against the Milwaukee Brewers. Chicago heads north for a four-game showdown with the Brewers, who are one game back after losing, 11-6, to the Astros.
"We still have a couple months to go, and I feel like we have to take care of our own business," Fontenot said. "We have four games coming up with them. We can try to do some good things there."
They got warmed up Sunday, and may have found a replacement closer while Kerry Wood's blister heals. Alfonso Soriano had three hits, including a three-run homer, and Derrek Lee drove in two runs to help the Cubs split the series with the Marlins.
"We needed to score some runs," Lee said. "We've been in a funk offensively and haven't gotten much going. It was nice to see some excitement on the bench and guys coming in high fiving after scoring runs."
Trailing, 6-5, in the seventh against Mark Hendrickson (7-8), Lee led off with his 17th homer. The Cubs then loaded the bases with two outs, and Fontenot cleared them with a double over left fielder Josh Willingham.
"We got the bases loaded and had a chance to win it," Fontenot said. "He threw me a good pitch and I made a good swing on it and I got it over [Willingham's] head. They're all big games for us, and it felt good to come thorugh with a win.
Chad Gaudin (1-1) picked up the win, and rookie Jeff Samardzija got the final six outs for his first Major League save in his second appearance.
"We've been looking for one more good arm in the bullpen, and I think we just found it," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of the former Notre Dame wide receiver. "It was awfully impressive."
The Cubs' comeback was huge, too. The Marlins had opened a 5-0 lead. Cubs righty Jason Marquis walked Hanley Ramirez to start the game, but escaped without any damage. Marquis then walked Willingham to open the second and hit Dan Uggla to set up the first of two homers by Mike Jacobs. The first blast landed in the basket rimming the outfield wall in straightaway center. His second came with one on and two outs in the third, this time into the basket in right.
"I made a few mistakes," Marquis said. "I got behind early and didn't like the direction the game was headed, but we hung in there and the offense came alive and settled down. I tried to give my team the best chance to win."
The Cubs had runners at second and third with none out in the third, and closed to 5-2 on Lee's run-scoring groundout and Aramis Ramirez's RBI double. Soriano tied the game with a three-run homer with one out in the fourth, his first since coming off the disabled list Wednesday. Uggla added a solo shot with one out in the fifth, which gave the Marlins a 6-5 lead.
Soriano's outing was as encouraging as Samardzija's. Sunday was the first game the left fielder had at least three hits in since May 17.
"I think what's most important today was I made better swings in [batting practice] and felt more comfortable at home plate," Soriano said.
The Cubs, now 4-6 since the All-Star break, need him, and also may call upon trainer Yoshi Nakazawa, 46, who was the bat boy on Sunday. It was an attempt to change the Cubs' luck, and it worked. Nakazawa will likely have to pick up the pine tar again on Monday at Miller Park.
"The good thing today is we won a ballgame, and our bats came alive," Piniella said. "Let's hope these bats travel well to Milwaukee."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.