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Cubs pound three straight homers in first inning

CHICAGO (AP) -- Sammy Sosa appears to have found his swing, and
the timing couldn't be better for the Chicago Cubs.

Sosa hit his first grand slam in more than two years, and also
had a solo homer as the Cubs hit three straight in the first inning
on their way to a 13-5 rout of the Pittsburgh Pirates that kept
them on pace in the chase for the NL wild card.

"He's swinging the bat great," teammate Derrek Lee said.
"When he's swinging the bat like he is now, he can carry a team on
his back."

The rest of the Cubs aren't too bad, either. Lee, Sosa and
Michael Barrett connected in succession in the first inning, and
Neifi Perez added a two-run shot in the sixth as the Cubs took
advantage of a shaky outing by Oliver Perez (10-9).

The left-hander, who had allowed three earned runs or fewer in
all but two of his previous 17 starts, gave up 10 hits -- four
homers -- and six runs in 5 2-3 innings. He also walked four and
struck out five.

"He just elevated some pitches and it cost him," Pirates
manager Lloyd McClendon said.

Michael Wuertz (1-0) got the win, striking out two in one
inning. Ryan Dempster worked two scoreless innings for his first
career save.

Lee's homer was his 30th of the season, giving the Cubs four
players -- Lee, Sosa, Moises Alou and Aramis Ramirez -- with 30
homers or more. They are the 10th major league team to accomplish
the feat, and the first since Toronto and Anaheim did it in 2000.

"That's cool to be a part of," Lee said. "It just speaks to
how good our lineup is, all the way through."

But will it be enough to carry the Cubs to the playoffs as the
wild card?

Chicago remained a half-game behind San Francisco, which beat
Milwaukee 8-1. The Cubs left Wrigley Field on Wednesday night for a
12-game road trip.

"It's difficult, but I don't want to hear anybody
complaining," manager Dusty Baker said. "We're down the stretch,
and the end of the race is always difficult."

But it will be easier if Sosa is hitting like the Slammin' Sammy
of old. Sosa has had a subpar season, hitting .261 for the year and
only .247 since he came back from the disabled list June 18. On
Saturday, he was dropped to sixth in the lineup for the first time
in more than 10 years.

Sosa looked as if he'd found his groove Wednesday, though, going
3-for-4 with a walk. The grand slam, off Mark Corey in the eighth
inning, was the eighth of his career and first since Aug. 11, 2002.

It also was the 66th multihomer game of his career, and his
first since June 27 against the White Sox.

"It's nice to see Sammy swinging the bat so well," Baker said.
"Hopefully, this is the start of great things."

With the wind blowing out of Wrigley at 16 mph when the game
began, conditions were perfect for Sosa and the rest of the Cubs.
Lee, Sosa and Barrett all homered off Oliver Perez with two outs to
give Chicago a four-run lead, but the Pirates rallied against Mark
Prior in the second inning to tie it.

The Pirates took the lead on Jose Castillo's second RBI in the
fifth, and the Cubs failed to score in the bottom of the inning
after Oliver Perez loaded the bases with three straight one-out
walks.

But Neifi Perez hit a two-run homer in the sixth, and Sosa broke
the game open in the eighth.

Neifi Perez led off with a single off Pittsburgh reliever John
Grabow, and Alou drew a walk. Corey relieved, but he wasn't much
better, walking Lee to load the bases for Sosa.

The crowd of 38,395 got to its feet, and Sosa didn't disappoint,
sending a 2-2 pitch high above the left-field fence and bouncing
down Waveland Avenue. The fans roared as Sosa rounded the bases,
and continued to applaud until he came out for a brief curtain
call.

He declined to comment after the game, hurrying to pack for the
Cubs' road trip.

"It was a pretty good ballgame for six innings," McClendon
said. "It just got out of hand. Our bullpen couldn't do its job
and keep us in it."

But give the Cubs some credit, too, Jason Kendall said.

"This is a hot team right now," he said. "What can you do?"
^Notes:@ Sosa passed Ernie Banks for the most home runs at Wrigley
Field (291). ... Cubs 3B Ramon Martinez left the game in the sixth
inning with a strained left groin. ... Pittsburgh has lost its last
seven road games.