Lilly 'just exceptional'

SportsChicago CubsPhiladelphia PhilliesNational LeagueAramis RamirezMatt MurtonCarlos Zambrano

Michael Barrett ducked his head into Lou Piniella's office Sunday morning to remind him it was time for chapel.

"We've got church?" the Cubs manager replied. "We need it."

A few hours later, all of Piniella's prayers were answered in a 4-1 win over Philadelphia.

Ted Lilly turned in another brilliant outing for his third win, Ryan Dempster pitched a scoreless ninth for his eighth save and the Cubs avoided a sweep and snapped a three-game losing streak before 45,129 at Citizens Bank Park.

Lilly (3-2) yielded three hits over eight innings, striking out six and walking one. He didn't allow a clean hit until Wes Helms singled leading off the eighth and the only run scored after a throwing error by Aramis Ramirez, who caught a liner and threw wildly toward first in an attempt to get a double play.

"He had exceptional stuff," Piniella said of Lilly. "Eight really good innings of baseball, and he really mixed his assortment of pitches well. Used a changeup, pitched to both sides of the plate with his fastball and had a real good curveball."

Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who was hitless in four at-bats, didn't agree.

"It was more us," he said. "He threw fastballs right down the middle. It was nothing special."

Nevertheless, Lilly has now allowed two earned runs or fewer in six of his eight starts and has 48 strikeouts to only eight walks.

The Cubs have three of the top five National League pitchers in fewest baserunners per nine innings in Jason Marquis (first), Lilly (third) and Rich Hill (fifth). Still, they're one game under .500 at 17-18.

"We need to continue to do our job," Lilly said. "The bottom line is it's great that statistically we're throwing the ball fairly well. But we're still a .500 team. It's hard to get too excited about your individual statistics when you're .500. We need to make sure it's a culmination of 25 guys."

Two of the hottest hitters on the team right now are Matt Murton and Cesar Izturis, who earlier struggled at the plate without consistent playing time. They both delivered run-scoring singles off Jon Lieber in the fourth, and the pair combined to go 13-for-20 (.650) in Philadelphia.

"It helps, any time you go out there and are playing every day," Izturis said. "Every day you get an at-bat, something good can happen, like today."

In a statistical anomaly, the Cubs are second in the National League in hitting (.277 average) but 2-7 in one-run games.

"It comes down to timely hitting," said Derrek Lee, who left the game in the second inning with neck spasms. "The pitching is there. The defense has been there and we're getting our hits. [Saturday] we got some timely hits, but it was just one of those games (an 11-7 loss).

"But for the most part I don't think we've gotten timely hits. We need to do a better job in key situations."

Piniella said on Saturday he didn't even want to look at the Cubs' average with runners in scoring position. Yet they entered Sunday with a league-best .287 average in that category, so it's difficult to argue they haven't hit in the clutch.

But three times over the last two games they've had a player thrown out trying to score from second on a hit, including the sixth inning on Sunday when Murton was nailed by Pat Burrell on Barrett's single to left.

Third-base coach Mike Quade had a difficult weekend, but the Cubs managed to overcome his decision-making on Sunday, thanks in no small part to Lilly's dominance.

With Marquis and Hill throwing well and Carlos Zambrano looking to find his magic touch, the Cubs' rotation should at least keep them in contention, even if the hitting is sporadic.

"It's fun to go out there and watch the starting pitcher dominate the game, because you want to go and do what he just did," Lilly said. "You've seen staffs in the past, they got on a roll, one after another, and start pitching their tails off. It's inspiring."

psullivan@tribune.com

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