If the Cubs can get back into the National League Central race this summer, they may have one team to thank for their turnaround:
The White Sox.
"To come out of that White Sox series with one win, I think it felt pretty good, all things considered, with all the things we've been through and as good as they are playing right now," catcher Michael Barrett said. "When Prior pitched that nine-inning game, it started to turn things back around."
Neifi Perez and Aramis Ramirez homered Saturday, and the Cubs knocked out 17 hits in a rare breather for Greg Maddux, who earned his second straight victory.
Maddux cruised to his 309th career win, allowing three runs on eight hits in six innings, tying Mickey Welch for 19th place on the all-time list.
The sizzling Cubs have won eight of their last nine games, and are 5-1 on the West Coast trip. Carlos Zambrano faces Woody Williams in Sunday's finale as the Cubs attempt to post their most wins on a Los Angeles-San Diego swing since going 6-3 against the Dodgers and Padres in 1971.
What kind of a night was it?
By the fifth inning, everyone in the Cubs' starting lineup except Corey Patterson had at least one hit. Everyone but Patterson and Jason Dubois, who walked in his first two at-bats, had at least one RBI.
Perez got the Cubs' offense going with a solo home run off Padres starter Darrell May (0-1) in the first inning, but the Padres tied it with an RBI single by Phil Nevin in the bottom of the first.
Ramirez put the Cubs back in front with a solo home run leading off the three-run fourth, and they never looked back. Reliever Brian Falkenborg replaced May after a leadoff double by Derrek Lee in the fifth, and immediately poured gasoline on the fire.
The Cubs greeted Falkenborg with three straight hits before he intentionally walked Patterson to load the bases. Barrett followed with a two-run double, Maddux added an RBI single and Jerry Hairston's RBI single knocked Falkenborg out without retiring any of the seven batters he faced.
The eight hits and seven runs in the fifth inning were both season highs for the Cubs, who began the day ranked ninth in the National League in runs scored.
Maddux's chances of winning at least 15 games for the 18th straight season appeared remote when he won only two of his first 10 starts, but he's at the same pace he was last year when he finished 16-11. Maddux was only 4-4 after his first 11 starts heading into June of last year; and is 4-3 after his first 12 starts in '05.
While the Cubs can't afford to look ahead these days, shortstop Nomar Garciaparra has no other choice. On a break from rehabbing in Arizona after surgery to repair tissue near his torn left groin, Garciaparra said Saturday he's looking forward to getting back on the field before the end of the 2005 season.
Whether or not he can actually do it remains in question.
"I still believe I can," Garciaparra said Saturday during a weekend break from his rehab. "I think so, because I do have some flexibility, which I expected I'd have. It's a just a matter of building your strength.
"Even when I feel pain, and there's a road ahead of me in that aspect, over time it's going to be like `You can feel it, you can feel it.' Then, in two days, you're going to say, `Well, it's not as much pain.' It's just a hurdle you have to get over."
CUBS 11, PADRES 5