Not since Sammy Sosa hit 20 home runs in June 1998 has any Cub put on the kind of show Alfonso Soriano has staged this September.
The $136 million man hit two more homers Saturday in a 9-5 victory over the Pirates at Wrigley Field, giving the Cubs their ninth victory in 11 games and leaving them with a 2 1/2- game lead over the Brewers with seven games to play.
Soriano has homered in three consecutive games and has 12 home runs in 96 at-bats this month, an average of one every eight at-bats. And to imagine, Soriano was booed in April when he failed to hit a single homer.
"It's a long season," Soriano said. "I'm very comfortable with myself. I believe in myself. I'd rather have a rough April and May [than September]. I didn't have a good start, but now it's September, and I think it's the best month I've had in my career."
Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez also homered, giving the Cubs eight in two games and a league-leading 36 for the month.
"Today it was our big guys," manager Lou Piniella said. "At this time of the year, that's what you'd hope for, and it's exactly what we're getting."
Over the last 50 years, only Ernie Banks has hit more home runs in a Cubs uniform in September than Soriano's output in '07. Banks hit 13 in 1957 for a Cubs team that lost 92 games. Soriano is doing it under considerably more pressure.
"These are games we have to win, and especially playing before Milwaukee," second baseman Mark DeRosa said. "You're sending them a message that the best they can do is hold serve against us for that day.
"We've just got to keep grinding. We're playing well, and our superstars are really playing well at the right time."
Asked if Soriano's numbers were "eye-popping," DeRosa didn't miss a beat.
"His contract is eye-popping," he said with a laugh.
The Cubs scored two in the first off Zach Duke on Lee's solo shot and a throwing error by second baseman Freddy Sanchez after Geovany Soto's grounder deflected off Duke's glove.
Pittsburgh came back with four straight hits off Rich Hill in the second, including an RBI double by Matt Kata that hugged the right-field foul line and a two-run, opposite-field single over third base on a 2-1 pitch to Duke.
Piniella had Steve Trachsel and Michael Wuertz warming up, proving again that the rope is getting shorter by the day for his starters.
Hill's last outing "wasn't really sharp either," Piniella said. "We had Trachsel if we needed him for long duty and Wuertz to get out of the inning. But Hill hung around and got his 10th win, and now he's got five or six days, and he should be ready for a good one in his last [start]."
Hill didn't need to be perfect because the power attack was back. Soriano's opposite-field home run in the second tied it again before Ramirez's two-run shot into the left-field basket gave the Cubs a 5-3 lead in the third.
Soriano added a two-run homer and a two-run double as the Cubs pulled away, but they were still leading only 7-3 in the seventh when rookie right fielder Sam Fuld crashed into the vines to rob Nyjer Morgan of extra bases, then doubled Nate McLouth off first to end the inning.
"Thankfully it was the shoulder and not the head," Fuld said. "If you're going to run into the wall, that's probably the best spot for it."
The crowd gave Fuld a standing ovation, and chants of "Sam-my, Sam-my" were heard for the first time since the departure of you-know-who in 2004.
It was that kind of a day. It's been that kind of season.
"If you can't get excited about this," Piniella said, "you're just not an excitable person."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times