Cubs beat Braves but lose Soriano for up to six weeks with broken hand

CHICAGO (AP) -- Just as the Chicago Cubs are on a roll, when all facets of their game are clicking and they have the best record in the majors, they are confronted with a staggering loss.

Star leadoff hitter Alfonso Soriano could miss six weeks with a broken bone in his left hand after he was hit by a pitch from Atlanta's Jeff Bennett on Wednesday night.

"That's a real bummer," Chicago starter Ryan Dempster said after pitching a four-hitter for his first complete game since Sept. 25, 2002, as the Cubs beat the Atlanta Braves 7-2.

"It's hard to sit back and enjoy the victory when one of your best players, one of the leaders of your team, goes down. He's proven in the past he's a pretty darn quick healer," Dempster added. "It's up to the other guys to pick him up."

After he was hit in the second inning, Soriano left the game and went to a hospital for X-rays. He will be in a splint for three weeks, Cubs spokesman Peter Chase said.

Soriano was on the DL earlier this season with a calf injury -- the Cubs were 9-5 during his absence -- and was just beginning to look comfortable on the bases. After a slow start this season, he came off the DL the first time and during one stretch last month hit seven homers in six games.

"He was just starting to run the way we thought he could, playing well in the outfield and hitting the ball with some power," manager Lou Piniella said.

"A bad break for us. Just an unfortunate thing. ...It's a shame, it really is. Things happen in baseball."

Bennett made an emergency start after Jair Jurrjens twisted his ankle on the steps leading from the Braves clubhouse after Tuesday night's loss. Normally a reliever, it was Bennett's fourth start of the season and first in seven weeks.

He gave up seven hits and seven earned runs in two-plus innings, leaving to boos when he was driven out in the third, mainly because he'd hit Soriano.

For a team that has not won the World Series since 1908, the injury to Soriano was startlingly bad luck. He entered the game with a .284 average, a team-high 15 homers and 40 RBIs.

Bennett's inside pitch caught Soriano as he tried to turn away and he immediately sunk to the ground.

Trainer Mark O'Neal and Piniella came out of the dugout. Soriano was on one knee while O'Neal examined him, then walked to the dugout.

"That's terrible. I feel bad for him. But no means was it even close to being intentional," Atlanta catcher Brian McCann said. "We had him 0-2. We were trying to go in with a fastball, hopefully lock him up. Obviously it got away from him."

Bennett was not available for comment.

Dempster, the closer-turned-starter, is now 8-0 this season at Wrigley Field. He struck out 11 as the Cubs improved to 28-8 at home this year.

But the victory Wednesday night was overshadowed by the loss of Soriano.

"He fought hard to get back. He was just getting his legs back and then has to go through this," Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee said. "He's going to be in a cast and that really limits what you are going to do. I'm sure he's frustrated. I just feel for him."

Soriano was not in the clubhouse after the game. The Cubs will use Reed Johnson in left and could call up some players from Triple-A.

"What can we do?" third baseman Aramis Ramirez asked. "We've got to move on. ... It's a big loss. He leads the team in homers, 40 RBIs. You can't replace that."

Kosuke Fukudome hit a three-run homer in the first off Bennett (0-4). Pinch-hitter Corky Miller had a two-run homer for the Braves.

Braves star Chipper Jones, who didn't start the last two games because of a small tear in his right quadriceps, went 1-for-3 and his average dropped a point to .419. He was not able to run at full speed and left the game after striking out in the top of the sixth.

Mike Fontenot came in to run for Soriano and stayed in the game at second base. Mark DeRosa, who started the game at second, switched to Soriano's spot in left field.

One pitch after his foul ball to the left of the plate hit a fan in the side of the head -- the fan was treated and released at a first aid station -- Fukudome lifted a three-run homer to right center. After Bennett had retired Soriano and Theriot to start the first, Lee walked and Ramirez singled in front of Fukudome's fifth homer.

After Soriano had to leave the game in the second, Theriot delivered a two-run double to put the Cubs up 5-0.

Bennett couldn't retire a batter in the third as Ramirez singled past second baseman Kelly Johnson, Fukudome walked and Geovany Soto singled to load the bases. Jim Edmonds then hit a two-run single to center to finish Bennett and put the Cubs up 7-0.

Game notes
Piniella said before the game he wouldn't lengthen the time between Dempster's starts leading up to the All-Star break. He could get six- and seven-day respites between outings to keep his arm fresh.