Cubs take over 1st place

Tribune staff reporter

Hurricane Isabella may meet her match when the Cubs hit Puerto Rico for a three-game series with the Montreal Expos that begins Tuesday.

After doing some serious damage to the St. Louis Cardinals' divisional championship hopes by winning four of five games in last week's series, the Cubs took Milwaukee by storm over the weekend and concluded their three-game sweep with a 9-2 blowout Sunday.

While the Cubs were on their charter flight bound for San Juan, they picked up a tailwind from San Diego in their pursuit of the National League Central championship. The Padres knocked off Houston 7-1, enabling manager Dusty Baker's surging team to move into first place, a half-game ahead of the Astros.

Powered by the slugging of Randall Simon, Sunday's lopsided victory before a Chicago-accented sellout crowd of 42,127 at Miller Park was the Cubs' fifth in a row, giving them their longest winning streak of the season and putting them a season-high nine games above .500 at 76-67.

For the first time in his career, Simon hit two home runs, giving him 15 this season. His five RBIs also were a career high.

"When you get men in scoring position, you've got to drive them in," Simon said. "That's the family food out there."

It took the Cubs only three innings to seize a 5-0 lead, making it one of the few times this season they've given pitcher Kerry Wood a big early cushion.

Wood pitched seven workmanlike innings and notched his first victory in six starts since he beat San Diego 3-2 Aug. 6.

"He made the pitches when he needed to, and he held them to two runs," manager Dusty Baker said. "That's two quality outings in a row for him. His confidence is growing and I can just see him getting better down the stretch."

Tom Goodwin began the game by walking and went to third when Tony Womack lined a double to left field. Goodwin scored when Sammy Sosa grounded out on a sharply hit ball to second baseman Keith Ginter, and Womack, who'd advanced to third on the play, came in when left fielder Brooks Kieschnick dropped Aramis Ramirez's short fly. Although Kieschnick was charged with a two-base error when Ramirez reached second, the cleanup man was credited with a sacrifice fly and a run batted in.

In the third inning, the Cubs struck for three more runs. Sosa was the instigator with a single, and Ramirez followed by reaching on a grounder that went through Brewers shortstop Bill Hall. Then Simon came to the plate and, after taking two balls, crushed a pitch from Doug Davis, sending it soaring 425 feet into the right-field bleachers.

Simon's second home run of the game and 15th of the season was a 390-foot shot to right in the seventh inning off Leo Estrella, the third of five pitchers used by Brewers manager Ned Yost. Earlier in the inning Sosa hit his 34th homer of the season, driving a pitch from Estrella over the right-field wall.

The Brewers put men on base in every inning except the fifth but were unable to come up with a big inning. Double plays started by Ramirez at third ended the first and second innings.

The first Milwaukee run came in the fifth when Hall's two-out double scored Wes Helms, who had singled. The other came in the sixth on Richie Sexson's 38th home run, which traveled 385 feet over the wall in right-center.

"I thought I had pretty good stuff, but I didn't feel consistent with my delivery," said Wood (12-11), who gave up eight hits and two walks and recorded six strikeouts to raise his major league-leading total to 234. "The pitch that Sexson hit was a fastball down. In a 6-1 game I'm not going to try to trick anybody and let them get people on base and get back in the ballgame. I don't think it was a bad pitch, but that's why he has that many homers. He's a good hitter."

Kyle Farnsworth took over in the eighth inning and yielded a hit by Helms that was erased on a double play. Mike Remlinger retired the Brewers in order in the ninth.

"It seems like every guy they bring in throws 95 to 99 [m.p.h.]," Yost said. "With all the pitching they've got, it's a tough hole to climb out of when they get a two-run lead, let alone a five-run lead."

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