Rookie Randy Wells leads Cubs back into first place with 4-2 win over Reds

By Joe Kay, AP
Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cubs back atop NL Central after 4-2 win

CINCINNATI — The hottest team since the All-Star game is back in first place — barely — thanks to a rookie who keeps telling himself not to get caught up in the moment.

The Chicago Cubs really needed Randy Wells to keep a level head.

The 26-year-old rookie took a shutout into the eighth inning Monday night and wound up winning his fourth straight start, 4-2 over the Cincinnati Reds. Mike Fontenot’s three-run homer off struggling Aaron Harang kept the Cubs rolling.

Dubbed underachievers for most of the first half, the Cubs have gone 13-5 since the All-Star break, best in the majors. They were 4½ games out on July 10. The latest win moved them back into first place in the NL Central for the third time in the last nine days, a percentage point ahead of St. Louis.

The challenge now is to stay there awhile.

“We’re right there in the standings,” Fontenot said. “Hopefully we’ll keep winning ballgames, and all of us can get hot the last couple of months, and we’ll see what happens.”

Wells (8-4) has been a big part of the turnaround. The right-hander was called up on May 8 and has been one of the league’s top newcomers. He allowed six hits, including Alex Gonzalez’s solo homer with one out in the eighth, while getting his fourth straight victory.

“He’s pitched exceedingly well,” manager Lou Piniella said. “What a nice job, huh? Where would we be without this young man?”

As the wins pile up, Wells tells himself not to get caught up in the success.

“Remember where you came from,” Wells said. “Remember where you were a few months ago. Don’t try to throw shutouts. Don’t try to win Rookie of the Year.”

Fontenot homered in the second inning off Harang (5-13), who leads the majors in losses. Harang hasn’t won since May 25, going 0-9 in his last 13 starts. It’s the deepest slump of his career and the longest losing streak by a Reds pitcher since Danny Graves lost 10 straight between the 2003 and 2004.

“We need a victory, but if anybody needs a win, it’s him,” manager Dusty Baker said.

Heading into the series, Piniella had one concern. Closer Kevin Gregg blew both of his save chances in Florida over the weekend and reported that his pitching arm felt tired. Piniella wanted to give him a couple of days off to recharge.

Carlos Marmol gave up a run-scoring double by Gonzalez with two outs in the ninth, leaving runners at second and third. He retired Willy Taveras on a grounder, earning his fourth save in eight chances.

While the Cubs have made a U-turn at midseason, the Reds have gone the other way. They have dropped 13 of 14 and 19 of 23, consigning them to a share of last place in the NL Central with Pittsburgh.

At Los Angeles, Ryan Braun had a three-run homer among his four hits, and Milwaukee closer Trevor Hoffman retired Manny Ramirez on a bases-loaded fly to right to finish a victory over Los Angeles.

Manny Parra pitched eight outstanding innings, but Milwaukee nearly blew a four-run lead after he gave up two hits to open the ninth. James Loney hit Hoffman’s first pitch for a two-run double, and Orlando Hudson drove him home to cut Milwaukee’s lead to one.

After the Dodgers loaded the bases on a swinging bunt and a hit batsman, Ramirez could only manage the fly ball, keeping him without an RBI in 10 straight games.

Hoffman earned his 24th save despite giving up three hits and a run for the Brewers.

Clayton Kershaw (8-6) hadn’t lost since June 10 but he issued a season-high six walks, including four straight in the fourth to bring in two of his three runs allowed. Braun connected in the sixth off reliever Jeff Weaver.

At San Diego, Mat Latos pitched seven strong innings and fellow rookie Will Venable drove in the go-ahead run and made a run-saving catch for San Diego.

Latos (3-1) settled down after allowing a run in each of the first two innings. He retired 15 of 16 batters in one stretch and got a huge lift when Venable saved at least one run in the seventh with a diving catch in right field to end the inning.

Heath Bell pitched a perfect ninth for his 27th save and San Diego won for the sixth time in seven games.

The Braves have lost seven of 11.

Kenshin Kawakami (5-9) allowed three runs and eight hits in six innings as he lost for the third time in four starts.

At Houston, Geoff Blum and Kaz Matsui homered off Matt Cain and Houston snapped the San Francisco ace’s six-start unbeaten streak.

Blum led off the fifth with a homer, the first earned run allowed by Cain in 14 innings. That cut the Giants’ lead to 2-1 and Matsui put Houston on top in the sixth with a two-run shot off the right-field foul pole.

Cain (12-3) also gave up Carlos Lee’s RBI single in the eighth.

Mike Hampton (7-8) gave up eight hits, only one after the Giants took a 2-0 lead in the third. He struck out six and won for just the third time in eight starts.

Jose Valverde gave up an RBI double to Pablo Sandoval with two outs in the ninth, but earned his 13th save.

At New York, Mark Reynolds hit two home runs, powering Dan Haren and Arizona.

Reynolds and Miguel Montero capped Arizona’s three-run first with only the second set of back-to-back homers at the new Citi Field. Reynolds added a two-run shot off Nelson Figueroa (1-1) in the second.

Gerardo Parra had three hits and drove in a run for the Diamondbacks, who nearly blew a six-run lead. Haren (11-6) allowed five runs and eight hits over seven innings, and is 7-2 with a 2.44 ERA in his last 10 starts.

Daniel Murphy homered and Luis Castillo drove in two runs for New York, which has lost four of five after winning five consecutive games.

Reynolds has seven home runs in his last seven games and is batting .387 (24 for 62) with eight homers since the All-Star break.

At Pittsburgh, Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman homered and Washington rallied from a three-run deficit.

Cristian Guzman had two hits and two RBIs and Tyler Clippard (2-1) earned the win with three hitless innings of relief for Washington, which won the last two games to split the four-game series between the last-place teams.

Andrew McCutchen homered for the fourth time in three games and Ryan Doumit went 3 for 5 for the Pirates, who have lost seven of nine.

Mike MacDougal earned his eighth save by getting Delwyn Young, the only batter he faced, to ground out with two runners on.

Charlie Morton (2-4) allowed all four of his runs and four of his six hits in the sixth.

will not be displayed