It was a tough day to be a starting pitcher at Wrigley Field.
After a 12-3 Cubs victory, Houston released its starter, Russ Ortiz, and the Cubs traded theirs, Kevin Hart.
"Bittersweet," Cubs catcher Koyie Hill said of the victory and the ensuing loss of a teammate.
Hart won his third straight game as the Cubs improved to 11-3 since the All-Star break and his second on this 6-1 homestand, including Thursday's rain-forced makeup.
"When you get nine runs, it helps when you give up a couple of homers," Hart said. "Then I settled down and started throwing strikes."
Hart's three runs came in the second and third innings, or at the same time his teammates were scoring nine off Ortiz. They also scored nine off Houston's Wednesday starter Mike Hampton.
The Cubs, now a half-game up on the Cardinals in the NL Central, pounded out 13 hits, including back-to-back home runs from Jake Fox and Milton Bradley that gave the team 15 on the homestand. The Nos. 1 and 2 hitters, Kosuke Fukudome and Ryan Theriot, had four RBIs apiece.
With Reed Johnson injured, Fukudome could even find himself batting leadoff against left-handed pitchers.
"We could, but the only thing is he needs to get his rest," manager Lou Piniella said. "He really has been on his game, making nice contact ... and getting on base, which is what a leadoff hitter is supposed to do."
For the homestand against Cincinnati and Houston, the Cubs lineup batted .310 and averaged 7.6 runs.
"Good homestand," Piniella said. "It's a good way to embark on a tough little road trip."
The trip starts Friday night in Florida before heading to Cincinnati and Colorado. It also will start with recently acquired reliever John Grabow and, very soon, starter Tom Gorzelanny, who is expected to take Hart's place in the rotation.
"We're in the race and it's good to keep the momentum going," Hill said. "Guys are finding confidence and it breeds confidence in everyone else."
Hart and fellow rookie Randy Wells are both 3-0 since the All-Star break, meaning they have won more than half the Cubs games in that stretch.
"These kids have pitched well," Piniella said. "It's good to see the farm system is producing."
It now is producing to bring other pieces to Piniella's team.
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