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Early-bird special: Cubs sweep Crew

Early-bird special: Cubs sweep

MILWAUKEE -- The Cubs showed why it's good to shop early rather than at the Trading Deadline.

Jim Edmonds, picked up in May, hit a pair of homers -- including his seventh career grand slam -- to back another Cubs newcomer, Rich Harden, and power Chicago to an 11-4 victory Thursday over the Milwaukee Brewers and complete a four-game sweep.

Chicago's lead in the National League Central is now 4 1/2 games ahead of the Cardinals, who played Thursday night, and five games over the Brewers, but manager Lou Piniella said the team wasn't trying to make a statement north of the border.

"I don't know about statements," Piniella said. "We came in here knowing that Milwaukee was playing solid baseball, and we came in here with a purpose in mind to win some baseball games, and that's exactly what we did."

They did it with good pitching, as the starters held the Brewers to five runs over 28 innings for a 1.61 ERA. Harden, now 1-1 with the Cubs, 6-2 for the season, threw six scoreless innings before Prince Fielder connected on his 22nd homer leading off the seventh. The right-hander had struck out 10 in each of his first three starts with the Cubs but didn't get a win. On Thursday, he fanned nine over seven innings, and that was enough.

"I don't think I felt as strong as I've been," Harden said. "I was a little inconsistent with some of my offspeed pitches today, but I was able to get through it. There were some great defensive plays made today, and that helped me get out of some jams."

In his four starts, Harden has given up three runs in 24 1/3 innings, and all three have come on solo homers.

"We'll take a solo home run," Piniella said. "Every game he's pitched, we've had a chance to win the baseball game."

Alfonso Soriano added a solo homer and Kosuke Fukudome hit a two-run shot in the eighth, the 200th home run of his professional career, as the Cubs posted their second sweep on the road, and first since their first trip away from home, April 7-10, in Pittsburgh. It's their first four-game road sweep since June 14-17, 2004, at Houston.

This series was a boost for the Cubs, who had scuffled since the All-Star break and watched their lead in the division disappear. They outscored the Brewers, 31-11, and batted .375 in the four games. Playing 90 miles north of Wrigley Field with a large contingent of Chicagoans in the 45,346, the second-largest crowd in Miller Park history, definitely helped.

"The guys were telling me what it's like in places like this," Harden said. "It's great to see a lot of Cubs fans. It was definitely a playoff atmosphere -- it's about as close as you can get."


"We came in here knowing that Milwaukee was playing solid baseball, and we came in here with a purpose in mind to win some baseball games, and that's exactly what we did."
-- Lou Piniella

It wasn't what the Brewers had in mind.

"We don't like the fact that we allowed their fans to come into our park and have a four-day party," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "But that's our fault."

Edmonds, making his second start in the last nine games because of a sore left knee, led off the third against Dave Bush (5-9) with his 12th home run, and Geovany Soto followed with a single. Harden showed his American League roots when he tried to bunt Soto over and popped up. Third baseman Craig Counsell let the ball drop, then doubled up Soto and Harden, who didn't leave the batter's box.

"He's professional," Piniella said. "He's a little confused running the bases, but outside of that he's fine."

"I've got nothing to say," Harden said. "I'm not happy with that."

No worries. The Cubs loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth when Aramis Ramirez walked, Fukudome doubled and Mark DeRosa was hit by a pitch. That set up Edmonds' opposite-field blast off a 1-1 pitch from Bush. This was his second multi-homer game this year; he also hit two June 27 against the White Sox.

When Edmonds came up in the seventh, he received a standing ovation from the Cubs fans in the crowd.

"I appreciate it," said Edmonds, feeling better after getting a cortisone shot in his left knee over the weekend. "They come up here to cheer for us, and it's exciting. It's exciting when you're a Cubs player, but it's also exciting for the game of baseball to see that many people make that much effort to come to this series."

The five RBIs tied a career high, and it was the seventh time Edmonds has reached that number, and first since July 28, 2005, at San Diego.

"It was nice to play, nice for everything," Edmonds said. "We have 50 something games left, and hopefully we can keep it up."

In the ninth, Milwaukee pitcher Eric Gagne fell behind to Edmonds and then threw behind him. Home-plate umpire Doug Eddings immediately tossed Gagne.

"I could bet a lot of money that didn't come from the pitcher," Edmonds said, who didn't want to go into details. "That's something they can deal with."

The NL Central hasn't been decided by these four games. The two teams will have to deal with each other Sept. 16-18 at Wrigley Field and Sept. 26-28, when they finish the regular season at Miller Park.

"It's July 31 today," Piniella said. "Baseball will be played in August, September, but certainly coming in here and beating a good opponent in their home ballpark four times is something to feel good about."

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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