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Cubs come back, hold on to beat Cardinals
There may be no better role model for the 2007 Cubs than the St. Louis Cardinals, who accidentally fell into the postseason last October with only 83 wins but managed to win the World Series anyway.
With the National League in its weakest state in years, and the Cubs playing at a .667 clip since June 3, there's no reason to believe they can't emulate the Cardinals' run and end their 99-year championship drought.
The Cubs sure looked like winners on a beautiful Tuesday night at Busch Stadium, beating St. Louis 4-3 to remain three games behind first-place Milwaukee. Carlos Zambrano and Aramis Ramirez led the way, as the Cubs won for the 20th time in their last 27 games.
"This game was a struggle," manager Lou Piniella said. "But we got it done."
With the victory, Piniella earned his 1,571st career victory as a manager, tying him with Dick Williams for 17th place on baseball's all-time list.
The Cubs are 30-15 since June 3, the best record in the National League. They also have won 12 of their last 16 one-run games, after going 2-12 in that category to start the season.
"We started the season miserably in one-run games, and we've really picked it up," Piniella said. "And it has coincided with our play. You have to win close ballgames. There were a lot of close ballgames all over baseball. You have to be fortunate to come out on top of those, and we have lately."
In another impressive outing, Zambrano allowed two runs on five hits over 6 1/3 innings, earning his league-leading 13th victory. Zambrano threw 73 pitches through four innings, but managed to get the big out when he needed it most.
"I felt good, even though I didn't have my best stuff," Zambrano said. "That makes me pitch, it makes me use the corners and I didn't hang anything.
"I just had one bad pitch today (a two-run triple to Skip Schumaker). It's good to feel like this sometimes. It makes me use all my pitches and hit the spots. That's how you win ballgames."
Ramirez tied a career high with four hits, including the go-ahead RBI single off Kip Wells with two outs in the seventh of a 2-2 tie. He's now hitting .371 in July with 20 RBIs.
The Cubs had 10 hits on the night, all singles, including six with two outs.
"We went through a streak there when it seemed like we were scoring seven-eight a day," said Derrek Lee, who returned from his five-game suspension. "Now we're not scoring as many, but our pitching has been great the whole season, so we feel if we get four-five runs, we have a good chance."
With the game tied 2-2 in the seventh, Wells (4-13) retired the first two men he faced before Ryan Theriot reached on Scott Rolen's error. After Lee walked, Ramirez promptly singled to left to give the Cubs a 3-2 lead. Lee added an insurance run in the ninth with a run-scoring single after Theriot drew a two-out walk and stole second.
Closer Ryan Dempster came on in the ninth and gave up an unearned run on a two-out single to Ryan Ludwick and an Alfonso Soriano fielding error. He then induced Albert Pujols to ground out to end it, giving Dempster his 17th save and first since June 19 in Texas.
Missing the last month with an oblique injury was difficult for Dempster to stomach.
"I'm well-rested, that's for sure," Dempster said. "I need my body to go through the grind again.The guys down there have been busting their butts. I'm looking to do my part."