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Soriano scorches ball, Cubs scorch Braves
Leadoff hitters are supposed to work the count and force the pitcher to throw a lot of pitches so the rest of the lineup can get a good read on what it will be facing.
Alfonso Soriano, however, is not your typical leadoff man and that was a very good thing Friday night for the Cubs.
Soriano hit the first two pitches he saw for home runs and then hit the fifth pitch he faced for his third home run as the Cubs went on to rout the Atlanta Braves 9-1.
"I feel very good," Soriano said. "On the first pitch I made a good swing, why do I have to wait for another pitch if I get a strike?"
The victory was the fifth in the last six games for the Cubs and coincides with Soriano swinging a scorching bat in June. In eight games so far this month, Soriano is hitting .514 (19-for-37) with six home runs.
"This is what we were looking for and he's starting to give it to us," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said."
It seems like a long time ago when Soriano was hitting just .200 after the first eight games of the season and some were questioning whether the Cubs made an expensive mistake with the eight-year, $136 million contract they gave him last winter.
But since that low-water mark April 10, Soriano is hitting .349 with 10 home runs to lift his overall average to .326.
"I'm starting to feel more comfortable at the plate and more comfortable with the team," Soriano said. "Everything is coming to together."
Soriano had the Cubs on the board before the crowd of 37,123 was settled in, taking Lance Cormier's first offering into the right field seats. It was Soriano's first homer since last Monday in Milwaukee, which ended a stretch of three home runs in three games for him.
It took Soriano about 20 minutes to strike again, this time taking Cormier's first pitch into the left field seats to give the Cubs a 3-0 lead.
Leading off the fourth inning, Soriano fouled off the first two pitches before connecting for a third time, again into the left field seats.
Friday was the second time Soriano has hit three home runs in a game, the other coming while he was with the Nationals last season, also against Atlanta. It was the first three-homer performance for a Cub since Aramis Ramirez did it in Cincinnati Sept. 16, 2004.
"It's very exciting because it's tough to hit one," Soriano said. "In April, I didn't hit one. It's very special when you hit three."
Only 15 players in the history of the game have hit four homers in a game and the large contingent of Cub fans in attendance booed when the Braves intentionally walked Soriano after a 2-0 count in the fifth.
Soriano was swinging for history when he came up in the seventh, taking a vicious cut and missing a 94-m.p.h. fastball from Blaine Boyer. After fouling off a 93-m.p.h. fastball, taking a fastball for a ball and fouling off a 95-m.p.h. fastball, Soriano was out in front of a 77-m.p.h. breaking ball and grounded to short.
"I just try to hit it hard and make a good swing," Soriano said. "That's my approach. I never try to hit home runs."
Soriano's final chance at his fourth home run came in the ninth and, once again swinging at the first pitch, he lined a single to left field. He was out trying to stretch it to a double. When he puts the ball in play on the first pitch, Soriano is 16-for-28 this season (.571).
By then the Cubs were comfortably ahead and the Braves couldn't get an ugly performance over with fast enough. The Cubs added another run in the fourth on a solo homer by Michael Barrett, a single run in the fifth, two in the seventh and one more in the ninth.
The Braves made three errors, had two wild pitches and one passed ball while dropping their fourth straight and sixth in their last seven games.
Overshadowed by Soriano's heroics was a solid start by left-hander Sean Marshall (2-2), who limited Atlanta to one run over six innings on just four hits.