Hill still a major mystery

Chicago CubsRich HillMatt MurtonUniversity of MichiganEducation

The Rich Hill conundrum is one that has left the Cubs searching for answers for more than a year now.

How can a kid look so untouchable in the minors but so average once he dons a Cubs uniform?

Called up from Triple-A Iowa on Thursday for his fifth stint with the Cubs, Hill was removed in the fourth inning of a 5-4 victory over St. Louis at Wrigley Field.

But the Cubs managed to turn in their best defensive performance to date, with some flashy catches by Todd Walker at second, Juan Pierre in center, Aramis Ramirez at third and Jacque Jones in right.

Closer Ryan Dempster, in his first game since being removed with one out left in Tuesday's victory in New York, gave up a pair of hits in the ninth but recorded his 18th save after inducing John Rodriguez to bounce into a game-ending double play.

Hill, the 26-year-old left-hander out of the University of Michigan, was 7-1 at Iowa with a 1.80 earned-run average but 0-4 with a 9.53 ERA for the Cubs.

Asked before the game what Hill had to do to translate his success to the majors, manager Dusty Baker replied:

"Just to pretend he's in the minor leagues. Sometimes you have to kick yourself, no matter what it takes. Sometimes you have to tell yourself it's the same game."

The Cubs staked Hill to a quick 2-0 lead on back-to-back homers by Walker and Michael Barrett in the first.

But Hill walked Scott Rolen leading off the second and served up a two-run homer to Juan Encarnacion on the next pitch. A stumbling Matt Murton then turned Hector Luna's fly ball to the wall into an RBI double. Encarnacion added a run-scoring single in the third to make it 4-2.

The Cubs scored three in the sixth off starter Jeff Weaver and the Cardinals bullpen to get Hill off the hook, pulling ahead 5-4 on Rolen's error on Barrett's two-out, bases-loaded grounder.

Ramirez and Jones helped squelch a potential rally off Bob Howry in the eighth, with Ramirez making a diving catch of Chris Duncan's liner and Jones doing a backwards somersault after making a leaping catch of Albert Pujols' long drive to the vines in right that ended the inning.

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