Commentary

Soriano, Cubs ready for a turnaround?

Soriano hits timely single for Cubs win

Originally Published: June 18, 2009
By Jerry Bonkowski | ESPNChicago.com

In the whole big scheme of things, Thursday's Crosstown Classic matchup with the White Sox was just one game for the Cubs.

But in the big picture, it could wind up being as significant a breakthrough as the team has had all season.

Down 5-1, the Cubs rallied for four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie the game -- a rally that included back-to-back homers by Derrek Lee (a three-run shot) and Geovany Soto (a solo blast) -- and then won it 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth on Alfonso Soriano's bloop single to right field that scored Reed Johnson.

Just a routine comeback win, right?

Hardly.

Manager Lou Piniella threatened possible lineup changes after Wednesday's loss to the White Sox.

It's easy to see why: Coming into Thursday's game, more than half of the Cubs' batting order was in a significant hitting slump.

The most notable was Soriano, who was 0-for-12 in his previous three games and 1-for-16 (.063) on the current homestand.

But Piniella decided to stick with his regular lineup Thursday.

"I'm happy to see Soriano get the game-winning hit," Piniella said. "That might give him a big lift, and we need it. Truthfully, he's too talented to have a valley as big as he's been in. You can have some peaks and valleys, but he's been in a gorge."

Soriano's recent struggles have just been for starters for the Cubs. Joining him in the hitless parade: second baseman Andres Blanco (past two games), outfielder Reed Johnson (past three), third baseman Mike Fontenot (past four) and center fielder Kosuke Fukudome (past five).

Only Lee (6-for-16 on the homestand coming into Thursday), Ryan Theriot (4-for-15 on the homestand) and Soto (3-for-15 on the homestand) had shown any sign of recent life in the Cubs' batting order.

That all changed Thursday. Soriano, Blanco, Johnson and Fontenot all had at least one hit, Lee continued his torrid pace, Soto came through to tie things up, and Soriano's game winner -- one of two hits he had in the game -- was the biggest hit of all.

"Look, for us to be a good offensive team, we need Soriano to hit," Piniella said. "Let's be perfectly clear about that. And we need a few of these other guys that haven't swung the bats as well as their capable of to hit, and some of them are starting to show signs."

Piniella didn't exactly threaten, but he implied after Wednesday's loss that some players might be moved in the batting order, if not outright benched, for a few games.

"Sometimes, you've got to sit them down for a few days, just to rest their mind more than anything else," Piniella said.

While the Cubs' skipper didn't mention any names after Wednesday's game, Soriano appeared a likely candidate if any action was going to be taken. But Piniella decided Thursday to give his club one more chance to shake itself loose of its recent funk.

"As frustrating as it gets at times, you've got to give these guys every opportunity to work themselves out of it," Piniella said.

Soriano, whose game-winning hit came off White Sox reliever Matt Thornton (4-2), is thankful Piniella stuck with him and allowed him to do just that.

"I've been struggling for a couple weeks and nothing works," the Cubs' leadoff hitter and left fielder said. "I needed a game like this today [Thursday] and the team needed a game like this today. I think the monkey is off now -- everybody is glad and we come back tomorrow [Friday] with new energy."

Lee, who hit what he called "a hanging fastball" off White Sox reliever Scott Linebrink to pull the Cubs to within one run, called Thursday's game the Cubs' biggest win of the season.

"I would say so," Lee said. "We've been in an offensive funk, and to score some runs late off some really good pitchers -- that's big for us. To lose this game would have been tough. It was a big win for us. Soriano had a great day and it was just good to see."

Splitting what had morphed into a two-game series with the White Sox (31-35) after Tuesday's opener was rained out brought the Cubs back to .500 (31-31), but more importantly, it gave the team a huge boost that could help right a ship that has seemingly been floating aimlessly for quite some time this season.

"Anybody that comes to our place, we have to win," said Cubs starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano. "It's no time for messing around. We have to start winning ballgames. It's almost the middle of the season and we need to start turning our engine on and start playing better."

Zambrano, who yielded the win to reliever Kevin Gregg (1-1), won't get any argument out of Piniella about that.

"Hopefully, this is a harbinger of things to come," Piniella said. "We cling to the fact that we're going to swing the bats better, and hopefully a game like today springs us loose."

Added Soriano, "Tomorrow starts a new season and whatever happened in the past is in the past."

Jerry Bonkowski is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jerry Bonkowski | email

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Award-winning sportswriting veteran Jerry Bonkowski returns to ESPN, having previously served as NASCAR columnist/writer for ESPN.com from 2001 to 2004. A lifelong Chicago native, Jerry spent 15 years with USA Today, where he covered all sports -- with heavy emphasis on Chicago-area teams -- and the past 4½ years as National NASCAR Columnist with Yahoo! Sports.

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