HOUSTON—The powerball attack Cubs manager Lou Piniella envisioned in March finally made a cameo appearance Thursday night at Minute Maid Park.
Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Daryle Ward and Cliff Floyd all homered off Houston starter Woody Williams as the Cubs beat the Astros 6-2 to win the series and move back into sole possession of first place in the National League Central.
Idle Milwaukee fell a half-game back, while St. Louis dropped to five games behind after being swept in Cincinnati.
After the game, the Cubs headed to St. Louis for a big four-game showdown against the Cardinals, with Carlos Zambrano facing Adam Wainwright in the opener Friday night at Busch Stadium.
"We can basically put them out of the way," Piniella said. "Hopefully that's what will happen, but we expect them to come out playing [Friday] night."
Ramirez agreed the Cubs could remove the Cardinals from contention with a good weekend.
"If we win three out of four, I think they're going to be out of the race," he said.
Steve Trachsel, pitching on three days' rest, picked up his first victory since returning to the Cubs with five innings of two-run ball. He might not get another start, but his victory Thursday was huge.
"They're all big this time of year," Trachsel said. "I try not to put too much importance on it. Just control what you can control."
The Cubs tied their season high in home runs, set June 8 in Atlanta when Soriano hit three.
"We didn't hit too many homers in the first five months," Ramirez said. "I guess this is the right time to do it."
The power outage was particularly acute in August, when the Cubs hit only 19 homers in 964 at-bats, an average of one for every 51 at-bats. They now have hit 20 in 448 at-bats in September, an average of one for every 22 at-bats.
Soriano homered leading off the game, tying Rick Monday's 1976 club record with his eighth leadoff blast. Ramirez added a three-run shot three batters later to make it 4-0, and the Cubs were on their way.
After Carlos Lee and Mark Loretta hit solo shots in the fourth, Ward, playing first base because Derrek Lee was scratched with a sore left knee, added his own solo homer in the fifth. Floyd hit his second home run in as many nights in the seventh.
Scott Eyre and Kerry Wood each pitched a scoreless inning, while Carlos Marmol finished it off with two scoreless innings, aided by Jacque Jones' leaping grab of Luke Scott's would-be homer in the ninth.
A surprised fan wondered what happened to the ball because Jones pretended he didn't have it.
"He enjoyed deking everybody a little bit," Piniella said.
Eyre, who has a 1.02 ERA since the All-Star break, has given a new definition to "scoreboard watching," spending the second through fifth innings watching through the left-field scoreboard innings window.
"It was awesome," Eyre said, adding there was nowhere to sit and see the game in the visitor's bullpen.
Wood, meanwhile, got loose before the game by playing catch with a lucky little boy who just happened to be sitting in the stands with his glove.
It was a great story for the boy to tell his friends at school Friday, but whether they believe him is another story.
In the end, Jones, Eyre, Wood and the rest of the Cubs are just enjoying the moment. After all that has happened to them during this crazy season, they still remember they're grown men playing a kid's game.