CHICAGO (AP) -- Todd Walker loves playing pressure baseball this
time of year.
"This is a lot of fun for me. For everybody, really," Walker
said. "The playoff atmosphere brings out the best in you."
With six games left, Chicago is a game ahead of San Francisco in
the wild-card standings. Houston, which beat St. Louis 10-3 Monday,
is 1½ back.
"We'd feel a lot better if San Francisco and Houston were about
five games back," Walker said. "The good thing is we don't have
to worry about what they do. If we win these next six games, we're
Corey Patterson, Derrek Lee and Jose Macias also connected, and
Nomar Garciaparra was 3-for-3 with a walk and a pair of RBI.
Carlos Zambrano (16-8) won his fourth straight decision, allowing
one run and five hits while striking out seven in 6 1-3 innings.
The Reds tagged Todd Wellemeyer for four runs in the eighth,
including Adam Dunn's 43rd homer. Dunn also struck out in the first
inning, leaving him four shy of Bobby Bonds' single-season mark of
Walker made the playoffs for the first time in his nine-year
career last season, coming up big for the Boston Red Sox as they
took the New York Yankees to seven games in the AL championship
series. He hit .349 in the playoffs and became the first Boston
player to hit five homers in a postseason.
Walker enjoyed the playoffs so much he passed on starting jobs
elsewhere to sign with Chicago. Now the Cubs are hoping he'll help
them in their quest for their first back-to-back postseason
appearances since 1908 -- the last time they won a World Series.
To get there, the Cubs are going to need more nights like this
from their offense. After managing just seven runs in their
three-game series with the Mets, the Cubs jumped on Brandon
Claussen (2-7) early.
Garciaparra got it started with a two-run double off the wall in
center in the first, and the Cubs chased Claussen with five runs in
the fourth. Walker stroked an RBI single up the middle, and Michael
Barrett made it 4-1 on a fielder's choice. Two batters later,
Patterson hit a two-run homer to right. Lee followed with a solo
homer into the bushes in center, giving Chicago a 7-1 lead.
"I didn't think the pitch to Patterson was that bad a pitch,"
Claussen said. "He must have been looking middle-in. But that
pitch to Lee, anyone could have hit that pitch out."
After Claussen walked Aramis Ramirez, John Riedling relieved and
finally ended the inning, retiring Moises Alou on a popup. Claussen
gave up seven runs and seven hits, lasting just 3 2-3 innings as he
lost his fourth straight decision.
The Cubs weren't done, either. Walker hit a two-run homer in the
fifth and singled to drive in another run in the sixth. The four
RBI were a season high for Walker, one shy of his career best.
"When you jump out to a lead like that, it's nice to keep
piling on the runs," Walker said.
While the Cubs were beating up on Cincinnati's pitchers,
Zambrano was shutting down the Reds' hitters. He gave up only one
extra-base hit and retired seven straight at one point. Cincinnati
got its only run off him in the fourth, when D'Angelo Jimenez
scored from first on Austin Kearns' double to deep left-center.
Barrett almost got Jimenez at the plate, but Garciaparra's relay
throw bounced at least twice and Jimenez barreled over Barrett,
knocking the ball free.
"One down, six to go," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "A very
Sammy Sosa doubled in the fourth inning, snapping an
0-for-13 skid. ... Reds CF Ryan Freel will only be able to
pinch-run the rest of the season after leaving the game in the
second inning with a fractured right thumb. Darren Bragg will lead
off and play center the rest of the year. ... If the Cubs make the
playoffs, tickets for their first-round games will go on sale next
Monday morning. They would host Game 3 and, if necessary, Game 4 of
the best-of-five series.