Cubs hit 4 homers, move back into first place with 6-2 win over Astros

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HOUSTON (AP)—The Chicago Cubs used a simple formula to regain the NL Central lead Thursday night. If only they can follow it in St. Louis this weekend.

Steve Trachsel earned his first win with the Cubs in eight years and Chicago hit four home runs in a 6-2 victory over the Houston Astros.

Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Daryle Ward and Cliff Floyd all homered for Chicago, which moved a half-game ahead of idle Milwaukee in the division race. The Cubs open a four-game series at third-place St. Louis on Friday night.

“It doesn’t matter if you hit 10 home runs every day,” Ramirez said. “If you don’t pitch and if you don’t play defense, you’re not going to win games. You’ve got to do everything right. Everybody has got to do their job for us to be able to win games.”

Trachsel (1-2) gave up two solo homers and seven hits in five innings for his first win since the Cubs acquired him from Baltimore on Aug. 31.

The 36-year-old right-hander pitched for the Cubs from 1993-99, and his last win with them came on Oct. 3, 1999. The 2,906-day gap between victories is the third-longest in team history.

Trachsel was pitching on three days’ rest, and Cubs manager Lou Piniella got exactly what he needed from him. Scott Eyre, Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol then combined for four scoreless innings of one-hit ball.

“We thought if we got five or six innings out of him, we’d be pleased,” Piniella said. “As it was, he gave us five. Scotty came in and really threw the ball well. So did Woody. We’re not complaining.”

Carlos Lee and Mark Loretta homered for the Astros, who have dropped 10 of 15 games since Cecil Cooper replaced Phil Garner as manager on Aug. 27. Woody Williams (8-15) gave up four homers for the first time this season and lost his fourth straight start.

“It seemed like I made a lot of mistakes over the plate,” Williams said. “We kept fighting and getting close, but basically without me out there today, we might have had a better chance.”

The Cubs staked Trachsel to a 4-0 lead in the first inning.

Soriano hit Williams’ second pitch off the brick facade in left field, his 40th career leadoff homer. Soriano has eight leadoff home runs this season, tying the Cubs record set by Rick Monday in 1976.

Mike Fontenot followed with a single and Floyd walked before Ramirez hit a three-run shot to left. Ramirez has 23 home runs this season and five this month.

“When you give your starting pitcher a four-run lead in the first inning, it’s great,” Ramirez said. “He just needs to go out and throw strikes and make the guys hit the ball.”

Chicago’s defense helped Trachsel avoid early trouble.

Luke Scott tripled with one out in the Astros’ second, his second triple of the series. Loretta walked before Eric Munson grounded into a double play. The Astros also put two on with one out in the third inning, but Chicago escaped with another double play.

Trachsel’s confidence grew with every pitch.

“I was kind of glad, for more reasons than one, that we scored four runs in the first,” he said. “It took me a while to calm down, to get the adrenaline level down a little bit, so I had a little bit of control when I went out there.”

Trachsel made his only costly mistakes in the fourth inning. Lee led off with his 28th homer and first since Sept. 1. With two outs, Loretta homered just inside the foul pole in left.

Williams retired 11 consecutive batters after the shaky start. Ward ended the streak with a two-out, solo homer in the fifth that stretched Chicago’s lead to 5-2.

Eyre relieved Trachsel in the sixth and the Cubs ended another inning with a double play. Eyre has a 1.02 ERA since the All-Star break.

Floyd led off the seventh with a homer into the upper deck in right field. The only other time the Cubs hit four homers in a game this season was June 8 in a 9-1 win over Atlanta.

Last week, Piniella told Floyd the Cubs were going to need his bat down the stretch.

“There’s no added pressure,” Floyd said. “I know he’s counted on me the whole season. I just feel bad I haven’t had the season I wanted to have. But we talked about it earlier. You can forget the whole season if I can help us get into the playoffs.”


The Cubs improved to 5-18-2 in series when they lose the first game. … Soriano has three leadoff homers in September. He’s the only major league player to hit at least eight leadoff homers in four seasons. … Ward replaced 1B Derrek Lee in the starting lineup. Lee was a late scratch because of a sore right knee. … Hunter Pence set a Houston rookie record with his 29th double. … The Cubs have 20 homers in 12 games in September.

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