Braves 2, Cubs 1

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CHICAGO (AP)—If Horacio Ramirez wanted to test the sore hamstring that kept him out since the third game of the season, he did it Saturday. And then some.

The Atlanta lefty pitched seven strong innings, singled, ran all the way home from first base for the go-ahead run on Marcus Giles’ second-inning double, and made two nice plays covering the bag at first.

“I was real happy with the way things went. I don’t think I’ve had to run that much in a game my whole life,” Ramirez said after beating the Chicago Cubs 2-1 on Saturday.

Ramirez (1-0), who hurt his left hamstring running out a bunt single in his season debut April 5 at Los Angeles, didn’t appear rusty after a long layoff, allowing seven hits with no walks and two strikeouts. He made four rehab starts before coming off the disabled list before Saturday’s game.

“I felt great out there. After the second or third inning, I got real comfortable,” Ramirez said. “Hopefully this is a building block for me. I’m hoping for a few more starts like this.”

The victory was the 12th in 16 games for the Braves, who with Ramirez now have another arm to put in their rotation.

The Cubs, meanwhile, continued their free fall.

A crowd of 41,526, the largest at Wrigley Field since 1978, watched on a spectacular 75-degree day as Chicago lost for the 20th time in 24 games.

General manager Jim Hendry said before the game that manager Dusty Baker’s job was safe and that he should be allowed to get the team out of the skid and then manage it when numerous injured players are healthy.

Baker welcomes the support, but it doesn’t make his task any easier.

“I’m appreciative of the fact, but that doesn’t make me feel any better at this moment,” Baker said. “My track record. I mean they know what I can do and I know what I can do. It’s just as a unit right now, we’re not getting it done.”

The Cubs put runners on first and second with two outs in the ninth, before Mike Remlinger got Ronny Cedeno to bounce back to the mound for the final out. It was Remlinger’s second save in four chances and capped another frustrating day for the Cubs’ offense. They had 10 hits but just one run.

The Cubs scored in the first with some small ball as Juan Pierre led off with an infield single, stole second, moved up on a sacrifice and scored on Todd Walker’s RBI grounder. But then their offense dried up again.

“We’re not very good right now. That being said, you have to have a little magic, you got to have a little luck,” Walker said.

“We got nothing going for us right now.”

And Walker reiterated that it’s not Baker’s fault.

“Dusty’s not out there throwing and catching and hitting,” Walker said. “I always am amazed when managers get all the credit in the world when they win the World Series and all the blame in the world when we are in a situation we are in. The reality of it is we’re the guys playing.

“Fire the nine guys who have been out there stinking it up for three weeks. Fire me.”

The Braves went ahead with two in the second off Sean Marshall as Brayan Pena walked and Ramirez singled, making him 3-for-3 on the season at that point.

Both scored on Giles’ double to left center, Ramirez crossing easily when shortstop Cedeno couldn’t come up with Matt Murton’s short-hop relay. The Cubs lost Friday’s game when second baseman Neifi Perez jumped for a relay throw from Jacque Jones on a sacrifice fly, dropped it and then overthrew the plate.

Ramirez’s ability to hit, run the bases and field—in addition to pitching — is no surprise to Giles.

“Great athlete. That’s him,” Giles said. “Anything he does—ping pong, or basketball or whatever he’s doing—he’s good at it.”

Ramirez gave up singles to the first two hitters in the fourth but raced to the bag to cover first on a nifty 3-6-1 double play. He also made a good play at the base in the seventh on Jones’ grounder to first after Murton doubled. He then escaped the inning when Cedeno flied to right.

Tony Womack had a pinch-hit single to start the Cubs’ eighth and reached second on a sacrifice against Ken Ray. But pinch-hitter John Mabry flied out before Walker lined out to end the inning.

Marshall (3-3) lasted six innings, giving up seven hits and two runs with two strikeouts and two walks.

Notes

Cubs RHP Mark Prior will make the first of at least three rehab starts on Monday at Class A Peoria. Prior, recovering from a sore shoulder, threw 30 pitches on the side at Wrigley Field on Saturday. … The Braves put C Brian McCann on the disabled list, retroactive to May 24, to make room for Ramirez on the roster. McCann has a sprained left ankle. … It was the biggest crowd at Wrigley since 41,677 came to a doubleheader against the Dodgers on July 16, 1978.

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