Routing the middling White Sox three games in a row is one thing -- impressive, nonetheless, for the sub-.500 Cubs -- but beating the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks is another thing entirely.
The Cubs’ bats showed no signs of a post-Crosstown cool-down Friday, as they lit up D-backs starter Wade Miley with three home runs and cruised to a 7-2 victory, their fifth in a row, in the opener of a three-game weekend series at Wrigley Field.
The five-game winning streak is the longest for the Cubs since they won seven straight July 31-Aug. 6 during the 2011 season. And it’s come in pretty eye-popping fashion, as the Cubs have outscored opponents 36-12 during the streak.
“I think confidence has a lot to do with it,” right fielder Scott Hairston said. “The weather’s getting warmer, and the wind’s blowing out. It makes you feel better as a hitter. I think initially we were told by our hitting coaches that we needed to concentrate on having good at-bats and working deeper in the counts and out job is to have a good quality at-bat. And I think we were zoned in this last week.”
Hairston delivered the game’s biggest blow, a grand slam as part of a five-run third inning for the Cubs against Miley, the Cubs’ second in as many days.
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The inning began with the Cubs already ahead 2-0 thanks to a two-run homer from Alfonso Soriano in the first inning, his sixth of the season. David DeJesus led off with a single, and two batters later Anthony Rizzo doubled into the right-field corner. After Miley threw a pair of balls to Alfonso Soriano, he threw two more intentionally to bring up Hairston with the bases full of Cubs.
“You try not to get too excited in that situation, but the wind was blowing out,” Hairston said with a smile. “So I just told myself not to get cheated. I might have had a different swing if it was two outs, but there was one out so I knew I had a little room. If I just missed it, maybe get a sac fly, but I’m glad I was able to hit it on a line.”
The slam broke the game wide open, pushing the Cubs’ lead to 6-0, and came on the heels of Travis Wood’s four-run homer a day earlier in the 8-3 victory over the Sox. It was the first time the Cubs had hit grand slams in back-to-back games since July 27-28, 1998 -- with Sammy Sosa accounting for both -- coincidentally against these same D-backs.
Cody Ransom followed Hairston two batters later with a solo home run of his own to push the lead to 7-0, and the Cubs held on, with Arizona striking only for a pair of runs in the sixth to make it 7-2.
But back to the grand slam, the third of Hairston’s career and his second at Wrigley Field, the previous coming last June when he visited as a New York Met. For Hairston, who grew up in the area while his dad played for the Sox, it was special to get another grand slam at the Friendly Confines.
“I remember sitting in the bleachers by myself and seeing a lot of balls come out there,” he said. “And you dreamt about what it’d be like to do it. It’s a good feeling.”
Good feelings are exactly what the Cubs are feeling as they find themselves in the midst of this winning streak.
Friday, it was Matt Garza’s turn to get in on the fun -- he started the first game of the stretch in Cincinnati but took no decision in the team’s come-from-behind win. He picked up his first win of the year in his third start since returning from an extended injury recovery. His last, somewhat strangely, came against Arizona at Wrigley Field back on July 15 of last season. Friday, he threw seven innings, allowing just two runs on six hits.
“I was more pumped about going deep [in the game],” Garza said. “I wanted to keep going, but Sveum had another plan and it worked out in our favor. I’m pumped to get it out of the way, win No. 1, yeah it’s huge, but I’m just glad we kept this thing rolling.”
Garza was strong, but it was perhaps the defense that allowed the game to reach blowout status as early as it did. Hairston -- starring at the plate and in the field -- made a leaping catch into the ivy against the right-field wall to end the first inning. In the second, DeJesus slid to make a nice play in center field. And in the seventh, with the exaggerated infield shift on for Jason Kubel, Darwin Barney ran all the way into the middle of right field to track down a ball on a play Garza called “amazing.”
“They played great. They’re playing great. Guys making plays all over,” Garza said. “That’s what your guys do, they pick you up. As a pitcher, you want to get them involved. You don’t want to go out there and strike out 27. You want to get them involved. And to get deep in a ballgame, the way you do that is involve the great players with you.”
“Those were two great plays at the beginning of the game that kind of changed the game around. Those balls fall in and it’s a whole other game,” said manager Dale Sveum.
For the five-in-a-row Cubs, things are going pretty good, and though Sveum was quick to remind everyone that the Cubs still are looking up quite a ways in the standings, he did acknowledge the better play of late.
“I think that game in Cincinnati will kind of catapult us into a real nice streak,” Sveum said. “We’ve been playing a lot better, obviously defense, but starting pitching, that’s where it’s been. No doubt about it, scoring runs comes from home runs, and that’s what we’ve been doing, too.
“We’re playing catch-up to everyone else, but the fact of the matter is that it’s still a long season. You’ve seen it before when teams can win 15 in a row, 14 out of 16, something like that, and all of a sudden, before you know it you’re right back in it and starting to have a lot of fun.”