PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Don't tell the Chicago Cubs it's too early in
the season to get excited.
Hee Seop Choi's two-run double helped Chicago open a four-run
lead before Kris Benson retired a batter, and Matt Clement limited
Pittsburgh to two hits over seven innings in the Cubs' 7-2 victory
The Cubs failed to score in double digits, as they did in their
previous three games, but still won their fourth in a row to
maintain their NL Central lead. They can match the club record of
16 April victories set in 1969 just by splitting their final 10
games this month.
Clement said the difference in this Cubs team and the one that
lost 95 games last season couldn't be more apparent.
"It's great to just keep winning," he said. "This has been a
lot of fun these first three weeks. You look around this clubhouse
and see the talent we have, and have to think this could be a
pretty exciting season."
There was a much different look in the Pirates' clubhouse after
their fifth loss in six games. Not only did they hold a meeting
before the game, they held a lengthy one afterward -- a rarity so
early in the season.
Even when reporters were allowed in a half-hour after the game
ended, several players could be heard yelling behind closed doors
in a trainer's room.
"It's good to see the players care," manager Lloyd McClendon
said. "They're disappointed in their performance of late."
"We've got to have meetings like this," shortstop Jack Wilson
said. "It was very positive."
Given a 4-0 lead before taking the mound, Clement (2-1) made his
third successive strong start by striking out 10 and walking three
-- the eighth time in his career he's struck out 10 or more.
Clement, who grew up 40 miles from PNC Park, extended an
ever-growing offensive slump that has seen the Pirates score more
than three runs only once while losing eight of 12. They are 2-5
since top run producer Brian Giles was lost for two-to-four weeks
with a knee injury.
Clement was excited about pitching so close to home, even
wearing a Pitt basketball T-shirt under his uniform.
"You could see the look in his eye before the game, he was home
and he wanted to win," manager Dusty Baker said.
The Cubs, coming off a four-game series with the Reds in which
the winning team scored at least 10 runs in every game, seemed
intent on matching that as their first five batters reached against
Benson (2-2). The right-hander began the game with an NL-leading
Mark Grudzielanek's leadoff single, Benson's two-base throwing
error on a pickoff play -- the Pirates' 20th error in 16 games -- and
Alex Gonzalez's RBI single quickly made it 1-0. Sammy Sosa singled
and Moises Alou walked to load the bases.
Choi, 4-for-8 with three homers in his previous three games,
fouled off a series of pitches before lining a double off the
out-of-town scoreboard in right field.
"I just wanted to keep the at-bat going as long as I could and,
luckily, I was finally able to get a pitch to hit after a long
time," Choi said.
Baker said, "That was a huge at-bat ... and a huge hit against
a good pitcher. He wouldn't give in."
The Pirates didn't get an out until Corey Patterson's sacrifice
fly made it 4-0 on Benson's 25th pitch of the inning. Benson needed
35 pitches to get out of the first before settling down, limiting
the Cubs to three singles over the next six innings.
Without Giles and first baseman Randall Simon, who sat out with
a sore neck resulting from a postgame traffic accident Thursday,
the Pirates did little against Clement. He has given up four earned
runs and nine hits in 21 1/3 innings in his last three starts.
The Cubs added three runs in the ninth against reliever Joe
Beimel on Grudzielanek's RBI double, Gonzalez's run-scoring single
and Sosa's RBI groundout.
Sosa and Choi had homered in three straight games. ...
Temperatures were in the 40s with a steady breeze. ... Sanders'
homer was only the Pirates' fourth in 12 games and second in 69
innings. ... The Pirates are 2-5 at PNC Park. ... The Cubs have
scored all six runs allowed by Benson in 27 1-3 innings over his
four starts. ... The Cubs have 51 hits in their last four games.
... Pirates 2B Pokey Reese struck out four times.