Reed Johnson grand slam the difference as Cubs top Diamondbacks

During one of baseball's labor wars, major-league teams agreed briefly to carry the minimum number of players required by their rules—24 rather than 25.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella would have loved to be only one man short Wednesday night, when his Cubs ended a trip that raised questions about their staying power atop the National League Central.

Alfonso Soriano was activated after a six-week stay on the disabled list but the Lou Crew nevertheless faced the Arizona Diamondbacks with the equivalent of a 23-man roster. This turned out not to be a fair fight as Soriano's return coincided with the depleted Cubs getting their groove back. Perhaps he counts for more than one player.

Reed Johnson's eighth-inning grand slam was the biggest blow in a 10-6 victory that allowed the Cubs to retain their one-game lead over Milwaukee. There finally were smiles all around as Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Geovany Soto ended long droughts as the club scored in double digits for the first time since June 21.

Soriano was a workmanlike 1-for-5, delivering a double after the hay was in the barn, but may have had an impact by osmosis.

"It changes our lineup up a little bit, gives us a different feel," Piniella said.

"We've needed that for a while. The guys feel good about it. Hopefully, they'll swing the bats better as a group."

When Lee hit a first-inning homer off lefty Doug Davis (3-4), it was his first since June 20, ending a 26-game drought. And with back-to-back singles in the six-run eighth, Ramirez and Soto ended hitless stretches of 26 and 21 at-bats, respectively.

Ted Lilly (10-6) allowed three runs in six innings to become the Cubs' third 10-game winner.

Lilly also had a run-scoring single and stole third base.

"Obviously, the big blow was the grand slam, but Lilly did his part with his little base hit," Piniella said. "Then he acted like Maury Wills stealing third.'"

Things didn't look so positive before the game.

The Kerry Wood saga continued, with Wood still unable to throw a fastball because of a slow-healing blister on his index finger, and another often-injured player spent much of the day in the trainer's room.

Center fielder Jim Edmonds was unavailable because of the sore left knee that forced him out of Tuesday's 9-2 loss. He will have tests Thursday in Chicago to determine his availability for the series against Florida and the Central showdown in Milwaukee next week.

The Cubs were leading the NL in runs, batting average and on-base percentage at the All-Star break but lost their strut about the time the White Sox swept them at U.S. Cellular Field.

After scoring in double figures 10 times in the first 75 games of the season, they had gone 25 games without one of those games before Wednesday.

The good news for the Cubs is that they play 13 of the next 17 games at Wrigley Field. Their 37-12 home record is the best in the majors.

The game against Arizona ended a 22-game stretch in which the Cubs played 16 on the road. They went 10-12.

progers@tribune.com

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