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Cubs continue knocking down the fences
Carlos Zambrano is one of those pitchers who loves to hit almost as much as he loves to pitch.
After earning his second victory in a 9-1 rout of Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, Zambrano seemed more concerned with his meager offensive showing than his third straight masterful outing.
"I think we can hit," Zambrano said. "I had four strikeouts today, but I don't count."
Fortunately for Zambrano, his teammates picked up the slack and let him concentrate on his primary task, driving opposing hitters crazy with his sinking fastball. Alex Gonzalez homered and drove in four runs, while Corey Patterson, Todd Walker and Michael Barrett also homered to pace an 11-hit attack.
The Cubs were supposed to thrive on their solid starting pitching this year, and Zambrano, Kerry Wood and Matt Clement certainly have done their part to bolster that line of thinking. But with 30 home runs in only 14 games, the Cubs are quickly earning a reputation as "Dusty's Wallbangers."
The all-time club record for home runs in a season is 212 in 1998, when Sammy Sosa clubbed 66. If the Cubs keep up this sizzling pace, they could break that mark July 27 and finish with 347 homers.
"Look up and down our lineup," manager Dusty Baker said. "Everybody can hit the ball out of the ballpark. It's great to know that from day to day, it's hard keeping us in the ballpark."
Patterson's two-run homer off Ryan Vogelsong (1-2) ignited a four-run first, and Zambrano put it on cruise control. Zambrano improved to 2-0 while lowering his earned-run average to 1.29, allowing one run on seven hits over eight innings. In three starts, Zambrano has allowed only four extra-base hits in 21 innings: a home run, a triple and two doubles.
"His upside is tremendous," Baker said. "He's still learning how to pitch, still learning how to control a couple other pitches, but he has a dynamite-moving fastball, which is the best pitch in baseball. He's getting better. I think he feels it. I know he definitely wants it."
The recent offensive surge has been a chain reaction for the Cubs, with each player's individual success making it easier for someone else in the lineup to thrive. The slugging of Aramis Ramirez and Moises Alou has allowed Sosa to become more selective at the plate, knowing he no longer has to carry the load. Sosa has more walks (10) than strikeouts (nine), after striking out more than twice as many times as he walked (143 strikeouts to 62 walks) in 2003.
Walker has been on base so often in the leadoff spot that Patterson is able to see more fastballs, while Barrett's hitting has helped Gonzalez get better pitches to hit in the No. 7 hole. Gonzalez's average has risen from .174 to .265 over the last seven games.
"It was so early, I didn't get down on myself," Gonzalez said. "It looks a lot worse than it is when it's coming out of the gate."
Playing in front of 11,746 yawning fans at PNC Park was a far cry from the frenzied atmosphere that accompanied the Cubs-Reds series.
"Home is home," Baker said. "I haven't been at Wrigley that long. I can't imagine it ever has been like this in the past.
It's not only demands around Wrigley, it's demands all over. People I know everywhere tell me they can't wait to go watch our games, or they have it on their computers at work, following us [through Internet] updates. Cubs fans all over are excited about it."