Back-to-back homers by Johnson, Soriano lift Cubs
CHICAGO (AP)—Reed Johnson raised his right arm as soon as the ball left his bat, and he popped out of the dugout moments later for a curtain call.
Alfonso Soriano simply added to the frenzy.
Johnson and Soriano hit back-to-back homers in the eighth, and the Chicago Cubs escaped with an 8-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday after blowing a three-run lead in the top half of the inning.
The home runs lifted the Cubs to their seventh win in eight games and capped a strange afternoon that saw Carlos Zambrano leave after five strong innings even though he was not hurt.
Chicago (67-45) moved 22 games above .500 for the first time since 1989, when it won 93 games, but what looked like an easy win turned dramatic in the eighth.
Soriano gave the fans more to cheer when he sent a 1-2 pitch from Burnett to the seats in left, making it 8-5. Carlos Marmol came in and pitched a perfect ninth for his sixth save in eight chances.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who come off the bench that I think could start on other teams,” Johnson said. “Guys that when they do play, they’re always contributing and that’s what you want. … We’ve got the right guys in this clubhouse.”
The drama started before the top of the sixth when Cubs manager Lou Piniella decided to bring in Jeff Samardzija even though the Cubs had a 5-2 lead and Zambrano had retired 12 in a row.
Zambrano, who had completed his warmups, left to a standing ovation, raising his right index finger on his way to the dugout.
Samardzija left with one out in the eighth after allowing just one hit while striking out one and walking one in 2 1-3 scoreless innings, but Neal Cotts and Gaudin could not hold the lead. Cotts gave up a double to Doug Mientkiewicz. After Nate McLouth popped out, Ryan Doumit singled to right, making it 5-3.
Piniella brought in Gaudin, and LaRoche drove a 3-2 pitch out to left to tie it.
“He threw me three fastballs for balls and then two sliders for strikes so I was pretty sure he was coming with a slider unless he wanted to walk me,” said LaRoche, who came to Pittsburgh from Los Angeles in the deal that sent Jason Bay to Boston and Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers before the deadline. “So I was sitting on it and he just threw it right down the middle.”
Zambrano allowed just three hits, struck out two and walked one while throwing just 82 pitches after going 4-1 last month.
So why the early exit? The Cubs are trying to preserve Zambrano, who threw 125 and 118 pitches in his previous two starts.
And why did he take his warmups? It was a stall tactic to give Samardzija more time in the bullpen.
“It takes him a little longer to get ready in the bullpen, and that’s one of the reasons that when we bring Jeff into a ballgame it’s to start an inning because we can’t get him ready quick enough in between innings,” manager Lou Piniella said. “He wasn’t quite ready yet, so we had (Zambrano) go out there and throw seven or eight pitches and wait until we got the call that Jeff was ready to go.”
Even so, it was a jarring end to another solid outing by an NL All-Star.
“In the pennant race, you have to be fresh,” Zambrano said.
He allowed an unearned run in the first and a leadoff homer to Brandon Moss — who came from Boston in the Bay trade—in the second—before settling down. The Cubs tied it at 2 in the bottom half and got two more runs in the fourth on consecutive doubles by Jim Edmonds, Soto and Zambrano against Pittsburgh starter Ian Snell to make it 4-2.
Aramis Ramirez led off the fifth with his 19th homer to make it 5-2.
Snell, bothered by a stiff back, allowed four runs and seven hits in four innings.
Cubs closer Kerry Wood faced batters on Sunday but probably will not return from a blister on his right index finger until later this week. Sidelined since July 11, Wood had hoped to return from the disabled list during Chicago’s series against Houston. Instead, manager Lou Piniella said he likely will not be activated until the Cubs host St. Louis next weekend. … RHP Jon Lieber, on the DL with a strained right foot, will make a rehab appearance for Class A Peoria on Tuesday. … Pirates 1B Adam LaRoche, out with a rib cage injury ran before Sunday’s game and could begin hitting off a tee as early as Wednesday, manager John Russell said. … IF Freddy Sanchez, who has missed the past five games with back spasms, pinch-hit on Sunday and could be back in the starting lineup on Monday.