Cubs 7, Reds 3

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CINCINNATI (AP)—Dusty Baker turned his back on the field and fretted.

The Chicago Cubs had just left the bases loaded in the eighth inning, failing again to add to a slim lead. In the majors’ most homer-friendly ballpark, the Cubs manager envisioned disaster unfolding.

Not to worry. Aramis Ramirez had one more at-bat left.

Ramirez hit a three-run homer that put the Cubs ahead to stay and added a clinching two-run shot in the ninth inning Tuesday night, wrapping up a 7-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds and their shellshocked pitching staff.

Derrek Lee also had three hits, including a two-run double in the fifth off Luke Hudson (1-5)—the latest meltdown by the NL’s worst starting rotation. Todd Walker singled twice, extending his hitting streak to 12 games.

But it was Ramirez who came through with the biggest hits on a night when the Cubs stranded nine runners, six in scoring position.

“We needed it badly,” Baker said. “We played good enough to win tonight. It’s a little scary when you leave those runners out there. You hope it doesn’t come back to haunt you.”

The Cubs have won eight of nine on the strength of their rotation, which has allowed only 15 earned runs during the streak. Mark Prior (7-3) kept it going on another muggy evening that sapped pitchers and helped the ball fly—when the Cubs’ hitters were at-bat, anyway.

“If they can stay hot all season and we go out and do our job, we’re going to have a lot of fun,” Prior said.

Prior, making his fifth start since recovering from a broken elbow, got hurt by the only batter in the Reds lineup who has any appreciable success against him. Jason LaRue doubled home two runs in the second for a 2-0 lead.

Prior gave up seven hits and three runs in 6 2-3 innings. Will Ohman retired Ken Griffey Jr. on a grounder with two aboard to end the seventh.

The Cubs have piled up 16 runs and seven homers in the first two games of the series at Great American Ball Park, which leads the majors in yielding homers.

Ramirez’s 23rd homer in the third put the Cubs ahead to stay 3-2. His two-run shot in the ninth off David Weathers moved the Cubs one ahead of the Reds for the NL lead in homers with 122.

Ramirez had one of the Cubs’ five homers in a 9-4 win on Monday night, and has homered in three straight games for the second time this season. It was his second multihomer game of the season.

Hudson was surprised by the Cubs’ outburst.

“I got under a few pitches, but in all honesty, I felt good,” said Hudson, who is 0-5 in his last six starts with a 10.72 ERA. “I got out of a couple of jams and felt good.”

Lee had two homers in the series opener, becoming the first major leaguer to reach 30. He did the damage this time with a two-run double down the third base line in the fifth, ending Hudson’s outing.

Interim manager Jerry Narron could have walked Lee with runners on second and third and no outs in the fifth, but decided to let Hudson pitch to him. It backfired.

“I think about walking Lee when he’s coming to the ballpark,” Narron said. “But it’s tough to load the bases with none out and (Jeromy) Burnitz and Ramirez coming up. If he keeps hitting like that, we’ll have to pull a Barry Bonds on him.”

Lee went 3-for-5, raising his average to .376, by far the best in the majors. Against the Reds this season, Lee has gone 16-for-30 with seven homers and 17 RBIs.

Baker was curious to see how Prior would react to his last outing. He threw 116 pitches in eight innings of a 5-1 victory over Pittsburgh on Thursday, his toughest test yet since he came off the disabled list for the second time this season.

Prior’s best moment came in the fifth, when Rich Aurilia doubled to cut it to 5-3 and Sean Casey was hit by a pitch. Prior went to a full count on Griffey, then got him to chase a full-count curve to end the threat. Prior momentarily raised his right arm in reaction, then patted his leg twice as he walked off the mound.

“I didn’t want that to be the turning point in the game,” Prior said.

Notes

Prior threw 108 pitches. Since coming off the DL he is 3-2 with a 3.56 ERA. … LaRue is 6-for-16 career off Prior. … Weathers left the game after giving up the homer to Ramirez. He strained his lower back on the pitch. … OF Jody Gerut, acquired Monday night in a trade with Cleveland, pinch hit and reached on an error. … Reds OF Jason Romano refused a demotion to the minors, becoming a free agent. … The Reds have given up 141 homers, most in the majors.

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