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Cubs, Lieber roll over Sox
After Sunday's game James Baldwin will board a plane to Atlanta, where he will pitch in his first All-Star Game. And Jon Lieber will hop a flight to Mobile, Ala., where he will help construct a baby room for his wife, Jessica, who is expecting their second child later this month.
That arrangement might seem unfair after Saturday's 9-2 Cubs victory, during which Baldwin gave up more runs to the first four hitters he faced than Lieber did the entire game.
But Lieber couldn't be happier about it.
"I'm looking forward to spending time with the family," he said. "And nothing else."
Lieber deserves the rest. The 30-year-old right-hander has been nothing short of superb for the Cubs this season, improving to 8-5 with a 3.63 earned-run average. That's more than half a run lower than Baldwin's after Saturday's shellacking.
Lieber also became the first Cub to throw back-to-back complete games since are you ready? Lieber did it in his final two starts last season.
Lieber has lasted seven or more innings in his each of his last 11 starts, but don't bother trying to sniff a hint of conceit from him. You'd have an easier time finding blond hair on Sammy Sosa's head.
"It was nothing special," Lieber said after giving up five hits and one walk and striking out 12. "The guys really did all the work behind me. And giving me a 4-0 lead made it easier."
The Cubs jumped all over Baldwin before most of the Wrigley Field sellout crowd of 38,933 had time to find their seats.
Leadoff hitter Eric Young crushed Baldwin's 1-0 fastball into the seats to end an 0-for-18 funk.
"It felt good just to round the bases," Young said. "I've been making a lot of U-turns lately."
Joe Girardi followed with a single and Mark Grace lined a base hit to right. After falling behind Sosa 1-0, Baldwin threw a knee-high curve on the outside corner.
It wasn't a bad pitch, but Sosa hammered it over the center-field wall to give the Cubs a 4-0 lead. It was only Sosa's second home run since June 18, but it gave the beleaguered slugger plenty to smile about.
"When I'm feeling great," he said, "that's where it goes, to center or right-center."
Baldwin escaped the inning without further damage but found trouble again in the fifth. Henry Rodriguez cranked an opposite-field three-run homer to send Baldwin on his way.
"It's all right," Baldwin said after his worst start of the year. "You just have to come back and fight even harder."
Lieber fought the entire afternoon. Although the temperature was 75 degrees at game time, it rose into the mid-80s in the early innings.
"He seemed out of wind in the seventh inning," Sox manager Jerry Manuel observed. "But he continued to battle."
Cubs manager Don Baylor could have lifted Lieber after seven.
With his team ahead 9-1 and Lieber due to hit with the bases loaded, Baylor decided against a pinch hitter. He wanted to leave Lieber in as a reward for his hard work.
"He has gotten much better with his endurance," Baylor said. "He has learned how to pace himself. On off days, he runs a lot. He'll be back out there [working Sunday.]"
When asked about his improved endurance, Lieber offered a characteristic shrug. The humility was still apparent.
"I haven't changed anything over the last three or four years," he said. "I still do my running every day and lift some weights. Nothing special."