Lee powers Cubs over Reds

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 17, 2008

Associated Press

CHICAGO — Derrek Lee already has as many homers in the first month of this season as he did in the entire first half a year ago.

Lee’s early surge continued Wednesday night as he and Carlos Zambrano carried the Cubs to a 12-3 victory over slumping Cincinnati — the Reds’ fifth straight loss under former Chicago manager Dusty Baker.

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Lee homered among his three hits and Zambrano also went 3-for-4 while pitching seven strong innings. The Cubs jumped out early with 10 runs by the third inning and made it easy for their ace.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella knows how much Zambrano enjoys hitting — he’s been used as a pinch-hitter occasionally — and had teased the big right-hander about his slow start, telling him he was a batting practice hitter.

‘‘Lou was telling me, ‘When are you going to get a hit this year?’’’ said Zambrano, who was 0-for-8 entering Wednesday’s game after batting .247 last season.

‘‘I said, ‘I don’t know.’ I was hitting .000 before the game and now I’m hitting .250.’’

Lee raised his average to .393 and after hitting only 22 homers last season, he’s already connected for six — the same number he had before the All-Star break a year ago.

‘‘We got contributions throughout the lineup, especially our third hitter. He’s really in a nice groove,’’ Piniella said. ‘‘He’s zoned in. The ball just jumps off his bat.’’

The Cubs scored four runs in the first and six in the third to give Zambrano an early cushion on another blustery night at Wrigley Field with the wind gusting out at 20 mph.

Zambrano (2-1) allowed eight hits and two runs. Chicago, meanwhile, hit Josh Fogg (1-2) hard. He gave up seven hits and was charged with nine runs in two-plus innings.

‘‘When you give Big Z a 10-run lead by the third, you might catch up but your odds aren’t real good,’’ Baker said. ‘‘We didn’t get to use that wind out there. They hit us around the ballpark pretty good.’’

Fogg said the wind was difficult but that’s not necessarily why he pitched so poorly.

‘‘It’s a factor. For me today it wasn’t a very big factor because I didn’t pitch very well, so it didn’t matter,’’ he said. ‘‘Zambrano did a pretty good job pitching in it, so it’s not like it was impossible. You just have to make quality pitches and I wasn’t able to do that.’’

Adam Dunn did homer for the Reds, off reliever Kevin Hart in the eighth. That’s when fans at Wrigley Field not only threw one ball back — as is a tradition after an opponent’s homer — they littered the field with 15 baseballs, momentarily halting play.

‘‘I was surprised. I didn’t know that many people hit a home run today,’’ Cubs right fielder Kosuke Fukudome said through a translator.

Chicago didn’t miss leadoff hitter Alfonso Soriano, who went on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday with a strained right calf, an injury he sustained in the first inning of Tuesday night’s 9-5 win when he caught a fly ball.

Bases-loaded doubles by Fukudome in the first and Geovany Soto in the third were key hits Wednesday night. Zambrano had the third three-hit game of his career — two singles and a double — and an RBI.

Lee’s solo shot started the six-run third.

Fogg then loaded the bases for the second time in three innings as the Cubs had two walks and a single before Soto delivered a two-run double for a 7-1 lead. Reed Johnson greeted reliever Mike Lincoln with a sacrifice fly, Zambrano had an RBI single and a sixth run scored on a wild pitch.

In the first, Fogg gave up a double to Ryan Theriot and a single to Lee before hitting Aramis Ramirez with a pitch to load the bases. Fukudome doubled past first for a 2-0 lead and Mark DeRosa followed with another two-run double.

The Reds had a big inning working in the top of the second when Dunn walked with one out and Edwin Encarnacion blooped a single to left. Joey Votto then hit a high, wind-blown fly to left that DeRosa — playing in place of Soriano — misjudged. The ball hit the warning track and went for a ground-rule RBI double.

But with runners at second and third, Zambrano grabbed Javier Valentin’s hard comebacker and was able to catch Encarnacion off third. He was tagged out in a rundown. Cubs shortstop Theriot then saved another run by going behind second on a high bouncer by Fogg to throw him out and end the inning.

Jeff Keppinger doubled in a run in the seventh for the Reds.

Notes: The nine runs allowed by Fogg tied a career high. He’s allowed nine runs three times, all against the Cubs. … With Soriano sidelined, Mike Fontenot played second and led off. The versatile DeRosa, who usually plays second, moved from left to third base in the seventh inning.