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Cubs take Game 1 on Ramirez's homer
The Cubs have Aramis Ramirez's walk-off home runs choreographed now, with each player knowing exactly where he needs to stand in the receiving line and how hard he needs to slap Ramirez's helmet when he jumps on home plate.
They got another chance to refine their act on a sun-splashed Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field when Ramirez hit a dramatic home run off Scott Linebrink to lead off the ninth inning and give the Cubs a pulsating 4-3 victory over the White Sox in the opener of the City Series.
Ramirez hit two solo homers to lead the Cubs to their 12th straight triumph at home, leading a late-inning comeback against the Sox's bullpen after left-hander John Danks threw six sterling innings.
"That's part of my job," Ramirez said.
With the victory, the Cubs remained 31/2 games ahead of the Cardinals in the National League Central, while the Sox had their three-game winning streak stopped and ended the night 31/2 games ahead of the Twins in the AL Central.
After being swept at Tampa Bay and arriving home in the wee hours of Friday morning, the Cubs started out looking as if they needed a nice, long nap. Danks held them to five hits over the first six innings with their only run scoring on Derrek Lee's double-play grounder in the first.
But when Danks left the game with a 3-1 lead after giving way to pinch-hitter Juan Uribe in the seventh, the Cubs woke up to find reliever Octavio Dotel throwing batting-practice pitches over the heart of the plate.
Lee drove a homer to right field on Dotel's first pitch to make it 3-2, and Ramirez hit his first home run of the game on a 2-2 pitch to ignite a few dozen beer showers in the bleachers.
Danks had thrown only 85 pitches and had retired 13 of the last 14 batters he faced. But Sox manager Ozzie Guillen trusted his normally trustworthy bullpen, which ultimately let him down.
"I don't think I've come out of a game before like that where I didn't want to go back there," Danks said. "Totally understand why. The National League, we have to try to get some runs, and obviously Juan Uribe is a better fit to hit.
"It was warm and I felt efficient, but I totally understood. To a certain degree, I agreed with Ozzie's move."
Cubs left-hander Ted Lilly survived a shaky start to pitch into the seventh inning, and reliever Bob Howry got the Cubs through the eighth. Brian Anderson doubled off Kerry Wood to start the ninth, but Wood retired Jim Thome on a popup and Orlando Cabrera on a fly to right.
That brought up A.J. Pierzynski, who had given the Sox a 3-1 lead in the third with a two-run homer off Lilly.
The Sox's catcher fully inherited the role of Public Enemy No. 1 on the North Side after the Cubs signed Jim Edmonds in May, and his flair for the dramatic made him a dangerous hitter.
Pierzynski tried to check his swing on a high 2-2 fastball, but catcher Geovany Soto appealed to third base umpire Mike Everitt and Pierzynski was emphatically called out. That led to a made-for- ESPN tantrum that included a helmet slam and a bat flip.
Just as the crowd had settled down from Pierzynski's theatrics, Ramirez took Linebrink deep and sent Cubs fans into a higher orbit.
"It's one of those things," Pierzynski said. "It's a game, and we've been walked off before … a couple of times in Tampa, and we bounced right back. This team is very resilient. We've been through a lot and believe in each other."
The Cubs collected their 23rd come-from-behind victory, and their 10th when trailing entering the seventh inning.
"We have confidence, that's obvious," manager Lou Piniella said. "We've been able to come from behind quite a bit this year, and today was no exception. Our big boys got the job done, which is good to see."