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Theriot's muscle the difference for Cubs

Theriot's muscle the difference for Cubs

CHICAGO -- Barry Bonds had better look out. Ryan Theriot is 70 homers shy of baseball's single-season record, and bearing down.

The mighty mite shortstop belted his third home run in four days, a two-run shot, to lift the Cubs to a 4-2 victory Monday night over the San Francisco Giants. Theriot matched his single-season home run high, and the Cubs are only 25 games into the season. When Bonds hit 73 in 2001, he belted his third in the Giants' 10th game, so Theriot is a little off the pace. But the Cubs shortstop, who hit one in 149 games last year, is providing more pop.

"It's just three," Theriot said. "It's not like it's 50."

It just seems that way. The Cubs loaded the bases with two outs in the first and Jonathan Sanchez (1-2) walked Geovany Soto to force in a run, one of six walks issued by the lefty. In the Chicago second, Aaron Miles doubled to lead off and two outs later, Theriot smacked the first pitch from Sanchez into the left-field bleachers.

"I didn't know he was that hot," Sanchez said. "For a small guy, I thought he was going to be a ground ball or fly ball. He doesn't hit a lot of home runs. It was a good pitch, but it wasn't in-in. He was cheating on it and he got a fastball and got it."

Cubs second baseman Mike Fontenot was Theriot's teammate at LSU when the Tigers reached the College World Series in 2000 and doesn't remember his fellow infielder showing this kind of power. Ever.

"You watch him take [batting practice], and he's got power to get it out," Fontenot said. "Maybe he's not concentrating so much on balls middle in, trying to inside out it the other way. He's hitting the ball well everywhere."

Maybe the reason it seems so odd is that Theriot, at 5-foot-11, doesn't look like a prototypical power hitter.

"I know when I'm in the field, and I see a small guy at the plate, I think he's not going to hit it that hard -- I think that," said Fontenot, who is 5-foot-8. "That's just the way people think. I guess it's true. A bigger guy should hit it farther."

Right now, Theriot is hitting like one of the big guys.

"You look at him take batting practice and he can pop it into the seats," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "I think what happened with Ryan is he got a little bit too much shooting the ball to right field. What happens is you lose your aggressiveness doing that. He's a strong kid and capable of getting it up in the air to the pull field. You don't want to do that all the time, or feel you can do it all the time. But if you get a good pitch, why not?"

Theriot flexed his muscles in the first inning when he flied out to right-center, which helped Alfonso Soriano advance from second to third. Piniella was as impressed by that at-bat as he was the home run.

"The philosophy is still the same," Theriot said of his approach. "I'm going to continue to do what got me here, which is hit the ball the other way and get on base. The homers will come. I'm not sitting up there consciously thinking about it. I just tweaked a few things. I'm doing some different drills I can't go into because it's a secret."

Then he smiled.

"No, I'm just kidding," Theriot said.

Who knows what goes on in the batting cage under the right-field bleachers at Wrigley?

Ryan Dempster (2-1) benefited. He struck out seven and gave up two runs on five hits over seven innings, his longest outing of the year. The right-hander, who celebrated his 32nd birthday Sunday, says he's not there yet and still feels a little inconsistent.

"I found myself early on getting frustrated when I get runners on base," Dempster said. "I wasn't sticking pitches, and that's why those big innings were happening. Tonight, they scored two in the sixth there but we came close to having a double-play ball. I'm just trying to keep making pitches and keep the ball down and throwing strikes."

"You can't complain," Piniella said. "Seven innings, two-run ball -- solid performance."

Theriot may get Tuesday off. He and Soriano have played every game so far. His teammates may insist the shortstop stay in the lineup.

"The biggest part is we've won all the games [he's homered in] and he's put a jump start into a lot of the guys," Dempster said. "It's a lot of fun."

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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