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Cubs take it to Crew in finale

Cubs take it to Crew in finale

CHICAGO -- Ted Lilly pitched like an All-Star should on Sunday.

The left-hander, named to the National League All-Star team for the second time in his career, struck out nine in his 13th quality start and Derrek Lee drove in three runs to lead the Cubs to an 8-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers and 3-1 series win.

"Any time you play in your division, it's an important game," said Lee, who hit a two-run homer in the first and an RBI single in the fifth. "We just want to finish the first half strong and take some momentum into the break."

Rookie Jake Fox, whose playing time will diminish with the return of Aramis Ramirez on Monday, added a two-run blast to back Lilly. The left-hander will be the Cubs' lone rep at the All-Star Game July 14 in St. Louis. Lilly (8-6) scattered nine hits over 6 1/3 innings and did not walk a batter. He also helped himself with a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt in the sixth to set up Kosuke Fukudome's sacrifice fly. The crowd cheered him as he came off the field after the bunt.

"I wasn't sure if that was for me," Lilly said. "This is such a great place to play. Obviously, there's high expectations from the fans here. Ultimately, I think if the fans just get a sense that you're going out there and giving your best effort, it's hard to expect much more. We know we need to perform. At the end of the day, we're doing that. It's hard not to give 100 percent every opportunity you get."

When Lilly was lifted with one out and two on in the seventh, he received another ovation from the crowd of 40,369, and the lefty tipped his cap to the fans. He's now 5-1 with a 1.96 ERA in eight home starts.

"We told [Lilly] before the ballgame, and he went out and pitched like an All-Star," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.

It was the seventh start in which the lefty did not walk a batter.

"They're aggressive and they've got confidence in the lineup and you know they're going to find out what's going on early in the count, and sometimes you take your chances," Lilly said of the Brewers. "One of the things that enabled me to do that was that we had a little bit of a cushion. I'm going to be a little more aggressive in those situations knowing that the last thing you want to do when you have a lead like that is give guys free passes."

With the win, the Cubs remained within 2 1/2 games of the National League Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals.

"It's disappointing," Milwaukee's Prince Fielder said of the series loss, "but they're a good team. You can't get too mad about it. That's how it is sometimes; they're a good team and they play even better here [at Wrigley Field]. Sometimes you have to tip your cap."

"Their starting pitching is a lot better than ours," Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun said. "They threw the ball a lot better than our starters did, and they swung the bats better than we did as well. Clearly, they were the better team. It's nice to get one win, but they clearly outperformed us in this series."

Last year, the Cubs swept the Brewers over four games at Miller Park at the end of July, and it helped propel them into the postseason. Whether the Cubs can maintain the same energy against the Atlanta Braves as they did vs. the Brewers won't be known until Monday night.

The Cubs will have some familiar faces back for that game. Besides Ramirez, Reed Johnson and Angel Guzman also are expected to be activated from the disabled list. The Cubs have some tough decisions to make as to who goes.

"It's not clear cut," Piniella said. "We've got Ramirez coming back, and obviously we're going to play him. I don't know what we're going to do. Let's just see what happens."

Andres Blanco dazzled the Cubs with a double play he turned in the seventh. Sam Fuld has provided a spark at the plate and is good defensively in the outfield. What do they do with Fox? He posted his fifth multihit game, and is batting .310. How do you sit him?

"He's been huge," Lee said. "He's stepped in and replaced Aramis about as good as you can. He can just flat out hit. I think the question was defense, but he's shown he can handle that."

The good news is some of the current Cubs look as if they're coming out of their funks. Fukudome, leading off for the second successive game in place of Alfonso Soriano, tripled to open the first and one out later, Lee launched his 15th home run off Mike Burns (1-2) to put the Cubs ahead, 2-0.

Fielder hit his 22nd homer with two outs in the Milwaukee fourth, lining the ball into the juniper bushes in straightaway center. But the Cubs padded their lead in the bottom half of the frame when Milton Bradley walked, reached third on Fox's double and scored one out later on Geovany Soto's sacrifice fly. Mike Fontenot then hit an RBI single to make it 4-1.

The Cubs rattled off three straight hits to start the fifth, capped by Lee's RBI single. Two outs later, Fox connected on his fourth home run, a towering shot that cleared the left-field bleachers.

Fukudome led off early in his career in Japan, and said he doesn't feel as if he needs to change his approach.

"If I could change my approach, then I might be hitting better," Fukudome said.

Even Soriano got into the act, ending an 0-for-17 skid with a single in the second.

"Our team is slowly starting to swing the bats with a little more consistency," Piniella said. "Let's keep playing over these next seven games. So far, the homestand has started in good fashion."

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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