For a split second it was theoretically possible for a Cubs player to actually injure himself by slipping on a banana peel. After Sammy Sosa sneezed his way onto the disabled list, anything seemed possible.
The injury-depleted Cubs went on to beat St. Louis 7-1 before a crowd of 40,131 to move into a first-place tie with Houston and Cincinnati in the bunched-up NL Central race.
Making his second spot start for the injured Kerry Wood, left-hander Glendon Rusch (2-0) allowed one run on six hits in 7 2/3 innings, striking out nine while earning his first victory as a Cubs starter.
Rusch went 1-12 for Milwaukee last season and was let go by Texas at the end of spring training before the Cubs offered him a minor-league contract.
"It's been a little bit of a long road, starting with what I went through last year," Rusch said. "I just tried to work as hard as I could and regain the form I had before. As soon as this became available to sign here when spring training was over, I jumped on it.
"It took about 10 minutes to think about it, and I did it. I was very excited to have an opportunity to be a part of this organization and knew some guys here already. I just thought this was a chance to be a part of a championship team."
Derrek Lee's two-run double into the ivy in right-center highlighted a four-run first inning off St. Louis starter Woody Williams (1-5), while Todd Hollandsworth, subbing for Sosa in right, smoked a two-run homer in the third. Like Rusch, Hollandsworth was one of Cubs general manager Jim Hendry's under-publicized pickups who are now playing key roles.
"I am not going to fill Sammy Sosa's shoes," Hollandsworth said. "I'm not going to try to. It's impossible. He's really gifted and has done things in this game kids dream about doing. I'm just trying to hold down the fort while he gets better."
Hollandsworth is one of "The Lemons," the nickname the Cubs subs gave themselves before some of them moved into the starting lineup due to injuries. He's hitting .346 with five home runstwo more than he hit in 228 at-bats with Florida last year.
Hollandsworth "comes to play," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "He's ready to play every day."
The Cubs improved to 12-9 at home with Matt Clement set to face Matt Morris in Sunday night's rubber game. While the Cubs are only six games over .500, Baker said he likes the position they're in, especially considering they have eight players on the disabled list.
"One thing I noticed is a lot of people [in Chicago] want everything right now," Baker said. "Every game it's like, '[Win] right now.' The reality is we're in pretty good position, considering everything that's happened, at one game out. The longer [the other teams] wait, the later it is, the more we start getting guys back and the better it is in our favor."
Baker said he believes the entire division can be contenders, as the close race indicates, and the Cubs have an advantage. Eventually they will be healthy ... as long as no one slips on a banana peel.
"I haven't had my team," he said. "Whether we run away with it or not doesn't matter to me, as long as we win it. We're not here to run away. We're here to win, whether it's by one game or 10. Let's not get greedy."