Ward’s pinch-hit homer lifts Cubs
MIAMI (AP)— Daryle Ward probably wasn’t the most likely guy to pick up a bat as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning with Chicago trailing by two runs.
Even more unlikely was breaking out of his 0-for-13 slump with a game-winning homer.
Ward connected on an 0-1 pitch off Marlins closer Kevin Gregg, driving it over the right-field wall for a three-run shot and helping the Cubs rally to beat the Florida Marlins 6-5 on Friday night for their ninth straight road victory.
“I’m just trying to make good contact there and I crushed the ball,” Ward said. “I knew he was going to come after me.
“The first pitch was a fastball, then I’m watching his release on the next pitch and the fastball comes again and I got all of it.”
Gregg (6-5) walked Mark De Rosa to lead off the ninth and allowed Reed Johnson’s one-out single before Ward’s winning shot.
“The guys put us in a spot to win the ball game and I screwed it up in the ninth,” Gregg said. “It was a situation when I didn’t execute my pitch and he made me pay for it.”
Gregg had converted on 11 consecutive save opportunities before Friday’s appearance.
“I was just so excited,” Ward said. “This really picks up my confidence.”
“What a clutch at-bat by Ward,” Chicago manager Lou Piniella said. “Hopefully this will get him going.”
The Cubs have 35 comeback victories, tying Milwaukee and Detroit for the major league lead.
Florida’s Jorge Cantu broke a 1-all tie in the third with a three-run homer. Cantu drove Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano’s pitch over the scoreboard in left field for his 21st of the season. Josh Willingham’s two-out triple scored Dan Uggla later in the inning for a 5-1 lead.
The Cubs cut the deficit to 5-3 on De Rosa’s two-run homer in the fourth, a shot off Marlins starter Josh Johnson over the wall in left field for his 14th home run of the season.
Johnson allowed three runs and five hits in six innings. He walked three and matched a career-high with eight strikeouts, set in three previous appearances.
The Cubs are unbeaten on the road since a 9-2 loss at Arizona July 22, and have won four straight on their current six-game road trip. They pushed their lead in the NL Central to five games over Milwaukee, which played the Los Angeles Dodgers later Friday night.
“I like the way these kids get after it for nine innings,” Piniella said. “There’s a lot of confidence in this locker room.”
The victory also was Chicago’s first at Dolphin Stadium since July 10, 2005.
“I’m happy for the team. This has been a difficult place for us,” Zambrano said.
Zambrano fared better than his previous start, when he allowed a season-high nine runs in four innings Aug. 9 against St. Louis. Zambrano pitched six innings this time, allowing five runs and four hits with six strikeouts.
“I’ve been rushing a little too much and I’ve been working with the pitching coach on correcting some things in my approach,” Zambrano said.
Chicago scored first on Zambrano’s two-out RBI single in the second, and the Marlins tied it in the bottom of the inning as Cody Ross’ two-out double to deep center that scored Uggla from first base.
“We played with some energy and swung the bats,” Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We had a chance to add on a run but we didn’t.”
Cubs 3B Aramis Ramirez sat out Friday’s game after sustaining a left hip contusion while sliding into home Thursday at Atlanta. … After the game, Marlins designated RHP Justin Miller for assignment and called up C Paul Lo Duca from Triple-A Albuquerque. Lo Duca, who played with the Marlins from 2004-05, signed a minor-league contract on Aug. 8. … Jeremy Hermida is in an 0-for-16 slump after going hitless in five at-bats.