ATLANTA (AP)—Lou Piniella was all smiles in his return to the dugout.
Hill matched his career high with 11 strikeouts, giving up three hits in eight innings Thursday night to lead the Cubs over the Atlanta Braves 2-1.
Chicago won for the fourth time in five games, a streak that began a day after Piniella’s theatrical argument during Saturday’s game against Atlanta at Wrigley Field, which led to his ejection and suspension.
“It’s good to win a game, and nice to be back on the field,” Piniella said.
Piniella said there is no connection between his outburst and his team’s hot streak.
“I believe you get good pitching and play good baseball and get some timely hitting, you win baseball games,” said Piniella, who watched his team from the press-box level while serving his penalty.
Hill (5-4), who walked one, matched his strikeout high, set against Pittsburgh last Sept. 6. He beat the Braves for the second time this season and improved to 3-0 in his career against Atlanta.
Each of the 11 strikeouts came with the Braves swinging on strike three, usually lunging in vain while trying to make contact on Hill’s sharply breaking curve balls.
“He’s got that big curve that he throws for strikes and balls, so you just don’t know,” Atlanta’s Andruw Jones said. “They all have the same rotation, you just don’t know which one’s going to be for strikes. You just have to be patient or be lucky.”
Jones’ second-inning homer gave Atlanta its only run.
“I just got lucky,” Jones said.
Ryan Dempster pitched a perfect ninth for his 12th save in 13 tries. Dempster’s opportunity came after Piniella lifted Hill for pinch-hitter Cliff Floyd in the top of the ninth. Hill threw 108 pitches and had six strikeouts in his final three innings.
“We’ve been watching pitch counts very close all year,” Piniella said. “When they’re in the low 100s, we usually go to our bullpen. It’s a long summer.”
Hill didn’t mind not having the chance for his first complete game of the year.
“Ryan is a great closer; he did a great job,” Hill said.
Hill threw eight innings in a 3-0 win over the Braves at Turner Field on April 19. The left-hander wasn’t as dominant while giving up three runs— including one earned run—in a no-decision in a 5-3 loss to the Braves in Chicago on May 29.
“The last time I faced those guys, it was kind of dig deep,” Hill said. “I had to battle through the game. This game it felt good from the start.”
Braves manager Bobby Cox was impressed.
“He can really spot the fastball,” Cox said. “He’s got a great curveball. … We just couldn’t hit Hill hardly at all.”
Chuck James (5-5) gave up two runs, six hits and three walks for the Braves, who have lost three straight and five of six.
“I pitched good. He pitched a little bit better,” James said. “That’s the way it goes sometimes. I’ll take seven innings, two runs any day.”
Jones led off the second inning with his 10th homer, a fly ball that barely cleared the right-field wall near the foul pole, and was stranded at third base after his fourth-inning single. Atlanta’s only other hit off Hill was a two-out single in the seventh by Matt Diaz.
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who failed in his bid to buy the Braves, sat beside team president Terry McGuirk. … Jones was 0-for-8 against Hill before his two hits Thursday night. … 3B Aramis Ramirez is expected to join the Cubs on Friday after an MRI exam in Chicago on his left knee showed patella tendinitis. Piniella hopes Ramirez can avoid the disabled list.