Padres 4, Cubs 3

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CHICAGO (AP)—Mike Piazza is having a good time in Chicago.

Piazza hit a three-run homer off Ryan Dempster in the ninth inning, and the surging San Diego Padres rallied for their 13th victory in 14 games, beating the slumping Chicago Cubs 4-3 on Saturday.

“Just elation,” Piazza said. “Any time you get a chance to come back, especially in a game that (Greg) Maddux is pitching so well—we were fortunate.”

Piazza wasn’t celebrating afterward. He was calm, relaxed. He spoke softly.

He has hit clutch home runs before, and this one came a day after his first four-hit game in about a year. It also upstaged a fine performance by Maddux.

Mike Cameron led off the ninth with a single to center off Dempster, and Brian Giles followed with a base hit to right. Piazza then hit his fourth homer of the season and 401st of his career, pulling an 0-1 pitch over the left-field wall to make it 4-3 and send the Cubs to their 13th loss in 15 games.

The blown save was the first for Dempster (0-1) since July 24, 2005, at St. Louis. He had converted 26 straight, including his first seven opportunities this season.

“We played good baseball,” Dempster said. “We played great defense. We pitched well. We moved guys over. Let’s not let my one (crummy) inning say what the game was all about.”

It was all about Maddux until Piazza’s homer.

He allowed an unearned run in 7 1-3 innings but stayed stuck in 15th place on baseball’s all-time wins list with 323—one less than Nolan Ryan and Don Sutton. Maddux left to a standing ovation with two runners on and a run in. Scott Eyre relieved, and pinch hitter Eric Young grounded into a double play to preserve the lead temporarily.

Piazza simply was looking to keep the ball off the ground. And after a low cutter by Dempster, he got a hanging pitch.

“I didn’t try to do too much with it,” he said. “I just put the bat on the ball and hit it well enough. We’ll take it.”

San Diego starter Chris Young allowed three runs—two earned—and six hits, walked three and struck out four in seven innings. Cla Meredith (1-0) pitched a scoreless eighth.

Trevor Hoffman retired the side in the ninth for his seventh save in as many opportunities.

A Cubs offense that has sputtered since Derrek Lee went on the disabled list last month with broken bones in his wrist showed some life in the first inning.

Back in the lineup after a day off, Jacque Jones collected his 1,000th hit when he drove in Ronny Cedeno with a single up the middle with two out. With a .340 average in his previous 14 games, Jones has been one of the few productive hitters lately. The next batter, Jerry Hairston Jr., made it 2-0 with a bunt single down the third-base line that drove in Aramis Ramirez.

Maddux worked a nine-pitch first inning, allowing Cameron’s double, and retired the Padres on seven in the second. The 15-time Gold Glove winner ended that inning by racing back for an over-the-shoulder stab of Adrian Gonzalez’s chopper and firing to first.

It was vintage Maddux. He changed speeds, hit the corners. And the Padres looked like frustrated weekend golfers, lunging and flailing.

It was a big difference from Maddux’s previous two starts against Arizona and San Diego, when he allowed a combined 12 runs in 8 2-3 innings and saw his ERA rise from 1.35 to 3.64.

Maddux was a thorn on offense, too.

He singled with two out in the fourth and then, in a strange play, stole second as Young prepared to deliver his first pitch to Juan Pierre. Young turned and threw to second, but Maddux slid under Josh Barfield’s tag for his first steal since Aug. 6 at New York and the eighth of his career.

But afterward, his mind was on Dempster.

“I feel bad for Dempster,” Maddux said. “I don’t think anybody feels worse than he does.”

Notes

Kerry Wood, coming back from arthroscopic shoulder surgery, most likely will make his first start of the season Thursday when the Chicago Cubs play the Washington Nationals. He allowed a run on five hits and struck out three in five innings Friday in a rehab start for Triple-A Iowa. … The Padres placed right-handed pitcher Woody Williams on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left calf and purchased right-hander Jim Brower’s contract from Single-A Eugene on Saturday.

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