"I'm glad we can hit," said Cubs starter Ted Lilly, who won't be welcomed back to Georgia any time soon.
Lilly (12-6) was involved in a minor bench-clearing incident in the Braves' sixth. Atlanta (55-66) had one on and two outs when Lilly hit Yunel Escobar on the left elbow with the first pitch. Escobar pointed at the Cubs pitcher and walked toward him, and both benches emptied.
The umpires, players and coaching staff stepped between the two, and umpire Joe West had both hands on Lilly as he pushed the pitcher away from the crowd. After the inning ended, Escobar stared at the Cubs' dugout.
"I'm trying to throw inside, that's what I'm trying to do," Lilly said. "That's part of my game. If I'm going to hit him and he's upset, I understand. He's not happy about it. No one likes to get hit."
On Wednesday, Atlanta rookie Francisley Bueno threw a pitch at Soriano's head and was ejected from the game. Bueno was suspended for three games Thursday by Major League Baseball, as well as being demoted to the Minor Leagues. Was Lilly's pitch payback?
"We don't play like that," Soriano said. "We play the game to win. We don't try to hit somebody."
Some of the Braves apparently thought otherwise.
"There's no doubt it's not going to cool down any time soon," Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur said. "Lilly threw at [Edgar] Renteria last year, threw over [Brian McCann's] head last year, and then suddenly hit Escobar. You can't do that.
"If you pimp a homer, you deserve to get hit, but [Escobar] didn't do anything and he didn't deserve that."
Lilly wasn't surprised at Escobar's reaction.
"Quite often, when a guy gets hit, he'll be upset, especially considering everything that's gone on in the last few days," Lilly said. "I definitely would've been upset if I was thrown out of the game for that. I was thrown out of the game last year here when I shouldn't have been. I don't think at that point there's any reason to throw me out of the game."
With the win, the Cubs completed a season sweep of the Braves and opened a 4 1/2-game lead over the Brewers in the National League Central.
"We swung the bats really well the entire series," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.
Chicago had taken a 2-0 lead in the first against Tom Glavine (2-4), and Ramirez made it 5-1 in the third with his 20th homer with two on and none out. He now has at least 20 homers and 30 doubles in five straight seasons with the Cubs, the first to do so since Hack Wilson from 1926-30. Soriano connected in the fourth, his 22nd, with one on and one out, launching a 2-1 pitch from Glavine to left.
"I think having the guys swing the bats like that early in the game definitely gets the momentum going in our favor," Lilly said. "I would've liked to have thrown the ball a little better than I did, but fortunately, our offense was able to pick me up."
In the Chicago fifth, Ramirez singled to lead off against Buddy Carlyle, and one out later, Geovany Soto lofted a ball to center. Atlanta's Mark Kotsay lost it and the ball dropped for a double. Ramirez scampered home and was safe on a headfirst slide to put the Cubs ahead, 8-4. But he landed awkwardly at home plate and had to leave the game with a left hip contusion. His status is day-to-day.
Kotsay hit for the cycle, including an RBI triple in the second and a leadoff homer in the fourth. He's the first player to do so against the Cubs since Willie McGee accomplished the feat on June 23, 1984, at Wrigley Field. Francoeur hit a three-run homer in the seventh.
It wasn't enough to stop the Cubs.
"We feel comfortable now," Soriano said. "We come every day to the ballpark with a lot of energy. Every game is important, and that's what we try to do is play the game, have fun and try to win."
Piniella must have known Thursday would be a strange day during batting practice. He was chatting with Henry Blanco on the outfield grass behind the shortstop position when Reed Johnson lined a ball that nearly clipped the Cubs manager. Blanco snared it.
"Blanco's starting in center field," Johnson joked as he came off the field.
"That ball was tracking me," Piniella said. "I told [Blanco] I was going to hit him fourth."
If he does, the way things are going for the Cubs, they probably won't miss a beat.