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Even in a relatively non-eventful game like Wednesday night's 5-1 victory over San Diego, the Cubs can't seem to dodge controversy.
On a day when Carlos Zambrano returned from his suspension and Kerry Wood and LaTroy Hawkins had their appeals heard, Sammy Sosa was forced to bite his lip when questioned about a meeting he had Tuesday with manager Dusty Baker.
Sosa met with Baker after being informed by a reporter that Baker said he was "sensitive" and that he wouldn't drop Sosa in the order because "you just can't lose him psychologically and spiritually."
After Wednesday night's game, Sosa said the meeting was "personal" and declined to discuss it. He doesn't want the focus to be on his relationship with Baker.
"I don't know what to tell you," Sosa said. "It's something I'm kind of surprised at. I've just got to continue to play hard, and that's it ... I don't need to make a comment on whatever happened outside the lines."
Pitching for the first time since his five-game suspension, Zambrano improved to 11-6, allowing one run on five hits in eight innings, throwing 124 pitches. With the victory, the Cubs moved two games ahead of the Padres in the wild-card race, with the rubber game of the series Thursday with Matt Clement facing Jake Peavy.
Corey Patterson sparked the offense Wednesday night against left-hander Sterling Hitchcock, going 2-for-3 with a two-run home run, lifting his average to .333 since becoming the lead-off man nine games ago. Patterson has had an up-and-down year since returning from knee surgery, but hasn't used the knee as a crutch.
"There were certain times I haven't done well this year, but I don't make any excuses," Patterson said. "I just didn't play well. It was not because of my knee. My knee is fine. If it bothered me that bad, I wouldn't be in there. It feels great. The hard work I did last off-season has paid off."
With two outs and Michael Barrett on third in the third inning, Patterson took a Hitchcock fastball and hit it over the right-field fence, his 14th home run of the season, tying his career high. It was Patterson's second homer to leave the ballpark in four games, after hitting one into the bay outside SBC Park in San Francisco on Saturday.
After Barrett's second double in the fifth inning, Zambrano helped himself with an RBI single to left, making it 3-0. No Cubs pitcher takes his hitting as seriously as Zambrano.
"That's why I'm in the National League," he said.
The Padres broke the shutout in the sixth on Mark Loretta's double, a groundout and a wild pitch by Zambrano. Sosa's double put runners on second and third with no outs in the sixth, and after Rod Beck replaced Hitchcock, Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee delivered sacrifice flies, adding to the lead.
Zambrano was on cruise control all night, striking out six with one walk and winning for only the second time in his last six starts.
"The movement on his fastball was the best I've seen all year," Barrett said. "It dipped, it dived, it rose ... When the catcher doesn't know what's coming, a lot of the times the hitter doesn't know either."
Sosa, who went 1-for-3 with a double, definitely knew what was coming when he was surrounded by reporters after a game in which he had little to do with the outcome.
"I'm going to fight for my at-bats, and whatever happens, happens," he said. "If something happens today, I've got to relax and come back tomorrow ready to go again. I don't have anything to prove to nobody. Just trying to win some games."
Like Sosa, Baker declined to say what was said during their meeting.
"Everything's cool," Baker said.