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Before Monday night's 2-1 victory over Pittsburgh, Cubs manager Dusty Baker explained his philosophy on motivating struggling players.
"Sometimes when you're down and things aren't right and you're trying to figure it out, sometimes you need a hug versus a kick," Baker said. "You're already down. If you kick somebody when they're down, you're just going to kick them even lower.
We all can use a hug sometimes. I don't get many. I don't know what I'd do if I got a hug."
After losing two games to Milwaukee by a combined score of 25-2, the Cubs were in desperate need of a group hug Monday.
They got all the love they needed on Matt Murton's two-out RBI single in the eighth inning that led to the victory before a crowd of 36,602 at Wrigley Field.
"I was wondering when we were going to win 2-1," Baker said. "Especially after the last couple of days."
While the Cubs aren't exactly in a youth movement, they proved again Monday their kids can play.
Murton's game-winning hit off Salomon Torres scored the go-ahead run, and rookie left-hander Sean Marshall pitched 71/3 innings, allowing one run on four hits. Bob Howry notched the victory in relief, and Ryan Dempster closed it out for his 26th consecutive save.
Marshall is one of three rookies in the newly configured rotation, along with Angel Guzman and Rich Hill, who was called up Monday.
"I'm a young guy too," Marshall said. "I'm just like those guys, and they can see me out there succeeding. They're just as good as I am, and it's going to be great to see these guys pitch [Tuesday] and Thursday."
After Craig Wilson doubled leading off the second, Marshall did not allow another hit until Jack Wilson singled leading off the seventh. The only other baserunner in that span was Pirates starter Victor Santos, who reached on Ronny Cedeno's two-out error in the third.
The Cubs' offense continued to sputter without Derrek Lee hitting in the No. 3 hole. In their first 10 games without Lee, the Cubs are batting only .218. Murton continues to come through in the clutch, however, improving to .417 (10-for-24) with runners in scoring position.
"That should be every player's goal, to get up in those situations," Murton said. "When it's really on the line, you bear down more. It doesn't mean you're always going to come through, and, in fact, sometimes you can overdo it at the plate."
This time Murton did it just right, sealing his reputation as the heir apparent to Lee in clutch hitting.
The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the first on Juan Pierre's single, stolen base and an errant throw from Santos on Cedeno's sacrifice. When Jacque Jones was doubled off second on John Mabry's sinking liner in the third, spoiling a bases-loaded, no-out situation, it looked like a play that would haunt the Cubs.
With Pirates runners on first and second and one out in the seventh, Craig Wilson grounded to Aramis Ramirez, who missed on a swipe tag of Jack Wilson running toward third. Ramirez got the force at second and unsuccessfully argued that Wilson had run out of the base path. Joe Randa's grounder to third scored Wilson to tie the game 1-1.
John Grabow's two-out walk to Todd Walker and Ramirez's infield hit off Torres put Murton in position to be the hero in the eighth.
He came through, while Marshall left Guzman with a tough act to follow.