Big Z flirts with cycle in rout of D-backs

Big Z flirts with cycle in rout

PHOENIX -- The Cubs still aren't the picture of health. "We still have to get well," said their manager, Lou Piniella.

In the meantime, an occasional night like Tuesday provides a cabinet full of medicine.

With an avalanche of base hits, much of them from the bruising battery of Carlos Zambrano and Koyie Hill, the Cubs overwhelmed the D-backs, 11-3, to climb back on the sunny side of .500 (10-9) and gain a game on the National League Central-leading Cardinals.

Alfonso Soriano's three-run homer in the third and Mike Fontenot's two-run shot in the fourth were the opening salvos, and Milton Bradley's successful return provided a crescendo, but it wasn't long before Zambrano stole the show.

While pitching seven tenacious innings, Zambrano (2-1) found the time and energy to deliver three hits. A single in the third, double in the fifth and his 17th career homer in the seventh left Zambrano a triple short of the cycle.

Considering the 250-pound right-hander has three career triples, the history books were safe.

"Hey, this is the National League. You have to be able to do anything you can for your team," said Zambrano, who previously had been 0-for-9 this season.

Piniella recently pointed that out to him, adding, "You're not swinging the bat the way you can."

Zambrano's response: "It's early."

He remembered starting last season in a similar batting funk (0-for-8) but winding up hitting .337 while going 14-6 on the mound. Of course, being such a dual threat can result is a serious identity crisis.

As Zambrano said about last season, "I still ended up winning the Cy Young ... I mean, the Silver Slugger."

Hill matched Zambrano's three hits, but lost the total-bases duel, all of the catcher's hits being singles. Piniella went to the backup to give struggling regular Geovany Soto a chance to regroup.

Hill's three hits matched Soto's total in his last 25 at-bats; last season's NL Rookie of the Year has a total of only five hits and is batting .119.

"Give Hill credit, he's been swinging the bat," Piniella said, "but we've got to get the other kid on his game, too."

Soriano's homer in the third snapped a scoreless tie and sprang the Cubs to the offensive outburst; he later added a run-scoring single for a four-RBI night. Fontenot's blow triggered a four-run fourth that put the game away.

At one stretch across those two innings, 12 of 15 batters reached base against Arizona starter Yusmeiro Petit (0-2) and reliever Jon Rauch.

Soriano and Fontenot had both also homered Monday night, for the Cubs' only runs in a 7-2 loss to Arizona. Soriano's seventh home run of the season put him in a five-way tie for the National League lead with Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, Raul Ibanez and Chase Utley.

Everyone in Chicago's starting lineup had a hit before the end of the fourth, as the Cubs piled up nine runs and 12 hits in innings three through five. That included Bradley, who in his return to the lineup from a groin injury singled and scored on Fontenot's home run. The hit, Bradley's second of the season, snapped his 0-for-15 drought, and the switch-hitter added a single off lefty Scott Schoeneweis later.

"That was good to see," Piniella said. "Hopefully it'll get him going."

Before the Cubs got going Tuesday night, the going was tough. Disaster beckoned early. Arizona had men on first and third with one out in the first. Full count on Mark Reynolds.

But when Reynolds sent a bouncer to shortstop Ryan Theriot for the start of an inning-ending double play, a weight seemed off the Cubs in general and Zambrano in particular.

"He executed the pitch well there, and that was definitely a momentum swing," Hill said. "He found his rhythm after that."

Zambrano went on to allow hits in bunches -- two in the third and fourth, three in the seventh -- but never seemed to lose command.

A 10-run lead obviously furthered the perception that Zambrano was in total control.

"He had to pitch out of some problems. That double play in the first was big. It kept them from taking a lead," Piniella said. "Then the bats came alive, and we were able to keep adding on."

The manager then delivered a brief state-of-the-team address:

"We're holding our own. Until we get healthy, our job is to stay in contact with the teams on top."

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