SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—When Sammy Sosa was hit on the head again Tuesday night in Puerto Rico, a crowd of 15,632 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium momentarily held its breath.
Many of the islanders came out specifically to watch Sosa, who grew up in the nearby Dominican Republic idolizing Roberto Clemente, the greatest Puerto Rican ballplayer ever.
But after shaking out the cobwebs, Sosa smiled and took his base, and all was well.
The Cubs eventually shook off the Montreal Expos, winning 4-3 for their season-high sixth straight victory, to remain in a first-place tie with Houston, which beat Milwaukee 7-6.
Manager Dusty Baker said Sosa's beaning "wasn't nearly as serious" as the one he took in Pittsburgh on April 20, but nevertheless gave him "flashbacks." Sosa was unavailable for comment afterward.
Carlos Zambrano pitched seven innings of two-run ball to earn his 13th victory and Moises Alou snapped a 2-2 tie in the seventh with a two-run single. Alou had sat out the last three games with a bruised left knee.
A carnival atmosphere greeted the Cubs in their first trip to Puerto Rico, giving them the same "home-field advantage" they enjoyed in Milwaukee over the weekend.
"It doesn't surprise me," Alou said. "Anywhere we go, we always find a lot of Cub fans."
"The Puerto Rican people have good times at games," added Baker, who played winter ball here in 1974. "There's a lot of music, a lot of noise, a lot of excitement."
The Cubs continued to get strong pitching from Zambrano (13-9), who improved to 7-1 since the All-Star break with a 1.69 earned-run average, following closely on the heels of teammate Mark Prior as the most dominant National League starter in the second half. Doubles by Brad Wilkerson and Orlando Cabrera provided the Expos with a 1-0 lead in the first, but Zambrano quickly settled down.
"I was too excited," Zambrano said. "I had to calm down. I told myself I have to pitch like I'm in the U.S. or Chicago or anywhere else."
The Cubs tied it in the fourth after Zach Day (7-7) hit Sosa in the top of the helmet to start the inning. A wild pitch ricocheted off the leg of Expos catcher Brian Schneider, allowing Sosa to scamper to third, from where he scored on Aramis Ramirez's sacrifice fly.
Zambrano's one-out hit in the sixth ignited a string of four straight singles, and the Cubs snatched a 2-1 lead on Randall Simon's single on an 0-2 pitch. The Expos tied it in the bottom of the inning on Cabrera's sacrifice fly, before Zambrano stranded the bases loaded by inducing Todd Zeile to ground out. Alou's two-run single in the seventh gave them the lead for keeps.
Known as Los Cachorros de Chicago in Puerto Rico, the Cubs seemed to enjoy the surroundings, even if it is the equivalent of a minor-league ballpark. Matt Clement said walking around the outfield reminded him of Williamsport, Pa., where the Little League World Series is played.
"But Wrigley Field plays smaller than this park when the wind is blowing out," Clement said.
The dimensions of Bithorn Stadium are 315 feet down the left-field line, 313 feet down the right-field line and 399 feet to dead center. The power alleys are listed as 370 feet but are reportedly around 340.
"It's a hitters' park," Sosa said before the game. "But it doesn't matter if it's 300 feet. You still have to make contact at the plate."
The Cubs had only one extra-base hit and 10 singles on Tuesday, but Zambrano's effort would have been good enough to win in any bandbox ballpark.