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Squeezing win from a lemon
The Cubs already have begun to fall into a familiar pattern, following a well-played game with a lemon.
But after watching the Cubs beat Cincinnati 10-4 Wednesday in a game he conceded "wasn't pretty," manager Dusty Baker was looking forward to Thursday.
"We played a great game [Tuesday]," Baker said. "We're on the 'every other day play a good game' program. So with that in mind now, if history repeats itself, we'll play a great game [Thursday]. You don't like it, but the fact we didn't give it up and we won the ballgame, that's what counts."
Despite Damian Miller's two passed balls that allowed two runs, Mike Remlinger's shaky relief pitching with a seven-run lead and 14 men left on base, the Cubs improved to 9-6 and remained alone atop the National League Central.
It's only April, but the players who endured the disastrous spring of 2002 are digging the view.
"We're in first place," left fielder Moises Alou said. "We have to keep winning and enjoy the ride."
Sammy Sosa's three-run homer off Paul Wilson in the first inning put the Cubs in charge, and they never looked back. Miller and Hee Seop Choi added solo homers and Alou blasted a three-run shot in the seventh, his first of the year.
Carlos Zambrano (2-1) had his third straight quality outing, allowing two unearned runs on five hits in six innings, lowering his ERA to 1.47. Both of his runs scored on passed balls.
Kerry Wood faces Jimmy Haynes in Thursday's series finale as the Cubs attempt to win their fourth series in five attempts. They didn't win their ninth game last year until May 2, when they were 9-17 and 7½ games out of first place.
The game-time temperature was 45 degrees, a 34-degree drop from Tuesday at the same time. Asked about the wacky Chicago weather, Baker said, "I ain't crazy about it."
But as long as the Cubs can win in the cold, Baker can deal with it.
"The guys aren't letting the elements affect them," he said. "You don't see anyone shaking and trying to stay warm. That shows their mental strength, and also you have to give [coach] Gary Matthews a lot of credit. He and Gene Clines were working with the hitters, having them drive the ball rather than lifting it.
"Whatever it is, just a few days ago they were asking if I was concerned about the lack of home runs. Now we're talking about how we're doing it. It doesn't matter how we do it as long as we get it done."
The Cubs are hitting .284. Sosa (.348) and Alou (.346) lead the way.
"A lot of people early in the year were wondering about our offense, asking, 'Do we have enough?'" Alou said. "Yeah, we do have enough."
One of the recent keys has been Choi's adjustment to inside pitches. He cranked a line-drive homer off Wilson's inside fastball in the first, his second in two days.
"I'm lucky, maybe," Choi said. "A basket home run."
But like a ball that lands on Sheffield Avenue, a basket homer counts the same. On the "every other day" program, the Cubs will take them any way they can.