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Cubs break out the bats

Tribune staff reporter

In a pennant race that defies logic, the Cubs have gone 6-11 since July 30 but have not lost any ground to first-place Milwaukee.

A 12-4 win over Cincinnati on Thursday helped the Cubs avoid a sweep at the hands of the team with the worst pitching staff in the National League, and manager Lou Piniella promised better days ahead.

"We're not done making noise yet," Piniella said. "Right now it's a struggle. It really is a struggle. But what can you do? We're fortunate that the team in front of us has struggled at the same time. And now you've got the team behind us coming in here, and we've got a chance to slow them down a little bit here, so we'll see what happens."

The Cubs are a half-game behind Milwaukee, exactly where they stood on July 30, but now face a St. Louis team that swept the Brewers in Miller Park to move to within 2 ½ games of first place. The Cardinals appear to have much more momentum than the other two challengers.

Advantage St. Louis?

"I don't know," Piniella said. "I'm not smart enough to figure that out. We have to figure out how to win some baseball games, and everything else will take care of itself."

The Cubs' clubhouse was filled with some strange noises Thursday morning, with Ryan Theriot and Mark DeRosa testing out some duck calls and wearing camouflage hunting fatigues that Theriot received before the game.

Then the latest version of the daily double combined to go 8-for-9 with six RBIs and five runs scored in the 1-2 spots in the lineup, highlighting a day on which the Cubs knocked out a season-high 20 hits.

DeRosa had a career-high five hits and four RBIs in five at-bats, while Jacque Jones and Aramis Ramirez chipped in with four hits apiece.

"It's unbelievable," DeRosa said. "I've done a lot of good things in my career, and a lot of bad things. This is a good thing and it comes at a good time. St. Louis beat up on Milwaukee today, and we all swung the bats well."

Jason Marquis blew a four-run first-inning lead but got his act together quickly thereafter, improving to 10-7 with a six-inning outing. Scott Eyre pitched a scoreless seventh when the Cubs were still clinging to a one-run lead, though that didn't stop Piniella from mispronouncing his name afterward.

The Cubs halted a four-game losing streak and became the first team since Cleveland in 1999 to collect four doubles in one inning in back-to-back games.

The clubhouse was loose before the game, with some players reciting lines from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" while it aired on a TV set. The scene was in sharp contrast to the overall panic that has crept up in Chicago, where Cubs fans have long memories and view each skid with an impending sense of dread.

"We're not going to be uptight," Piniella said. "I'm not uptight. Look, you've got to enjoy the situation you're in. You don't enjoy getting beat, that I can tell you."

The kids have added a new element to a once-staid clubhouse, and one-time wallflowers are starting to step out and become the life of the party. They may be in a pennant race, but many are also enjoying the fact that they're finally playing in the big leagues.

Left-hander Carmen Pignatiello became the eighth rookie to appear in a game for the Cubs this season, and the eighth to make his major league debut.

"Honestly, this place has never really felt tight," Theriot said. "This has been a good group. Everybody always likes to have fun. Today was a little different vibe. You can't take anything too seriously."

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