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Cajun connection could be Cubs' cure
Theories abound as to why the Cubs suddenly have begun to play like a true contender in the National League.
Was it the Zambrano-Barrett fight? Lou's tirade? Ted Lilly's plunking of Edgar Renteria?
Everyone seems to have an answer, but few have pointed to the introduction of "Les Cubs"—the French-flavored double-play combination of Mike Fontenot and Ryan Theriot—as a turning point.
Fontenot continued his hot hitting Friday with a two-run homer and three RBIs, backing Lilly's strong pitching in a 4-1 victory over the Padres on a picture-perfect afternoon at Wrigley Field.
"He has crazy power," Alfonso Soriano said of Fontenot, the 5-foot-8-inch, 27-year-old rookie who's hitting .407 with a pair of home runs.
Only one month ago at Shea Stadium, Soriano came up to Fontenot and asked him if he was the batboy. No one will mistake him for one again.
"It was a good time," Fontenot said, laughing. "He was just messing with me."
When Aramis Ramirez returns next week, the Cubs will decide whether to keep Fontenot. Piniella said before Friday's game that Mark DeRosa will play some more right field, which suggests Fontenot could remain in the middle infield rotation.
"I've said it a ton of times—I'm just happy to get a chance to come here every day and be in the lineup," Fontenot said. "I'm real glad I'm getting an opportunity. I've been getting some hits, and some key hits. I'm feeling really good right now and just trying to ride the wave."
Fontenot's two-run, sixth-inning shot off David Wells landed in the basket in left-center to snap a 1-1 tie. Soriano added a solo shot and Lilly did the rest.
In his first start since last Sunday's first-inning ejection for hitting Renteria, Lilly (5-4) survived a shaky first and pitched eight innings, yielding one run on six hits for his first victory since May 18 against the White Sox.
Lilly pointed to a pair of sparkling defensive plays DeRosa made in the fourth, setting the tone for the afternoon.
"We're all competitive," Lilly said. "And when one of the other guys see 'De-Ro' make a play like that, they want to do the same thing."
The Cubs staff has compiled a 2.91 ERA in June, best in the National League.
"The secret is we're getting really good pitching," Piniella said. "It always starts with that."
The conditions have helped the Cubs pitchers in an unusual June in which the wind has blown in more than out. It was blowing in from right field Friday and has blown out only seven times in 33 home games this year, or 21 percent. As recently as 2004, the wind blew out 39 times in 81 home games.
"These are beautiful summer days and when I look up there, the wind is still not blowing out," Piniella said. "So it does play bigger. It goes to shows you a team built for this park [needs] as much athleticism as it can get."
Piniella inserted three left-handed hitters in the lineup against the left-handed Wells, including Felix Pie in the No. 2 spot, thinking Wells would have to change his pitching pattern with three strategically placed lefties.
It worked. The Cubs had 10 hits off Wells in six innings, and the left-handed hitting Fontenot had a run-scoring sacrifice fly along with his homer.
The Cubs are 4-1 on the homestand and 9-4 since June 3, the day after Piniella's dirt-kicking episode.
"The key thing is not getting down after scuffling a bit the first two months," Lilly said.