PITTSBURGH—The Cubs return to Wrigley Field on Monday with a noticeable lack of swagger.
They managed to avoid a sweep in Pittsburgh with a 12-1 victory Sunday over the Pirates, snapping a five-game losing streak and ending the trip at 1-5.
Carlos Zambrano (5-2) allowed one run in six innings to stop the bleeding, and Derrek Lee had four RBIs as the Cubs scored 11 runs over the final three innings to prevent their first four-game sweep in Pittsburgh since 1983.
"Carlos battled through some trouble almost every inning," manager Dusty Baker said. "They left a lot of men on base. We left a lot of men on base. I'm just glad we came out ahead."
The Cubs trail division-leading Cincinnati by 21/2 games and begin a three-game series against Houston at Wrigley Field on Monday, hoping to finally live up to the high expectations that greeted them at the start of the season.
Despite Sunday's rout of the Pirates, the Cubs have yet to meet the hype, though they still lead the league in ticking off opposing teams. Zambrano hit three Pirates hitters Sunday, causing a G-rated bench-clearing scene and leading to the ninth-inning ejections of Pirates pitcher Mike Johnston and manager Lloyd McClendon after Johnston hit Todd Walker.
Cubs pitchers hit 10 men in the series, and McClendon apparently had seen enough.
"Nobody likes to get hit," Baker said. "But most of [the Pirates] stand off the plate and go into the ball and really weren't trying to avoid getting hit. I had a big meeting with the umpires in spring training. They said they're not going to give a hit batsman if a guy doesn't make an attempt to get out of the way.
"I didn't see anybody attempt to get out of the way except [Jason] Kendall when he got hit [Friday]. Other than that, the rest of them stood there. We weren't trying to hit anybody. We're going bad enough already."
Baker said he didn't think Johnston was trying to hit Walker and did not deserve to be ejected.
"I just hope it doesn't spill over to next week," he said, referring to the Pittsburgh series at Wrigley Field next weekend.
Rookie left-hander Sean Burnett shut out the Cubs for four innings before Lee's RBI double in the fifth tied the game 1-1.
An error by Pirates third baseman Rob Mackowiak opened the door to a three-run Cubs seventh, and Pittsburgh's pitching completely fell apart from there, turning it into the baseball equivalent of garbage time in the Cubs' seven-run ninth. Infielder Abraham Nunez was even called on to retire Corey Patterson for the final out of the inning.
The victory ended the longest losing streak of Baker's tenure in Chicago, but the Cubs need to regain their swagger on the upcoming 10-game homestand against the Astros, Pirates and Cardinals. They have nine players on the disabled list, including starters Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, but using injuries as a crutch is something the players don't want to do.
"Everybody we've got in here is highly capable," Walker said. "Certainly no one is in the category of a Wood or a Prior. If we have [Prior] on the mound, more than likely we're going to win. But we have very capable people to win games.
"The Pirates are as hot as I've ever seen. That's just baseball. Sometimes you're going to run into hot teams. It's the major leagues, so it really doesn't matter how good, on paper, a team is."
So far, the Cubs have proved that axiom.