Milton dominates Cubs as struggling Reds avoid sweep

CHICAGO (AP) -- From the start, Eric Milton didn't feel right. He was tired, his velocity wasn't there.

Still, he took a shutout into the eighth inning, and the Cincinnati Reds beat the Chicago Cubs 3-2 on Wednesday night to avoid a three-game sweep.

Ken Griffey Jr. had two hits, including a home run off Carlos Zambrano (3-3) leading off the sixth, and drove in two runs as the Reds won for the second time in seven games. Ryan Freel had two hits and scored a run for Cincinnati.

Milton (3-2) allowed a single to Juan Pierre leading off the first and then retired the next 17 batters before Pierre singled up the middle with two outs in the sixth.

"I would say they were getting themselves out a lot tonight," Milton said.

He had the Cubs were swinging early in the count, and the result was he threw just 92 pitches in 7 2/3 innings.

He ran into trouble in the eighth when Matt Murton led off with a double to the wall in center field, and Jacque Jones then lined a two-run homer to center to pull the Cubs within 3-2. It was Jones' ninth homer and his second in as many games.

After Ronny Cedeno singled to shortstop, pinch-hitter Freddie Bynum bunted into a forceout. Milton left after allowing a single to shortstop by Neifi Perez that put runners on first and second with two outs. Todd Coffey relieved and struck out Michael Barrett to end the inning. He pitched a perfect ninth for his second save.

In his third start since returning from arthroscopic knee surgery, Milton allowed two runs and six hits, winning for the first time since beating the Cubs on April 13.

"He threw a lot of first pitch strikes," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "He threw a lot of breaking balls and changeups for strikes. I thought he did a great job of mixing up his pitches."

Zambrano -- 0-1 with a 7.59 ERA in his previous four starts against Cincinnati -- left after allowing two runs in the sixth inning when he appeared to lose his composure.

First, Griffey pulled a 1-2 pitch out to right for the game's first run.

Zambrano appeared upset after Scott Hatteberg chopped a single off first baseman Todd Walker's glove, putting runners on first and third with one out. After a visit to the mound by Barrett and pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Zambrano hit Edwin Encarnacion to load the bases. Then he had trouble picking up Jason LaRue's
grounder, allowing Austin Kearns to score from third, before throwing to first for the second out.

After striking out Milton, Zambrano smacked a cooler in the dugout. And he was still steamed afterward "with myself."

"I've been in baseball five years, and I've never felt like I felt right now," Zambrano said.

But he wouldn't pinpoint the cause of his anger.

"I don't know what to say right now; I don't want to say anything bad," he said.

Zambrano answered several questions with "myself," sprinkling in responses like: "I've got to do better. I'm better than this, you know? That's why I'm upset."

Did he try to talk manager Dusty Baker into keeping him in the game?

"It's the manager's decision when he takes me out," Zambrano said.

For the Cubs it was a rough end to a month in which they went 7-22. Their offense sputtered, a problem the Cubs hope they rectified with Wednesday's acquisition of Phil Nevin from Texas for Jerry Hairston Jr.

One of the few bright spots in May was Zambrano, who was 3-1 and allowed nine runs in six starts. In the two no-decisions, he shut out San Diego for seven innings on May 5 and carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Atlanta on Friday.

The Cubs started May with a 2-1 win over Pittsburgh and then dropped eight straight and 12 of 13.

"I think we turned the page a week ago," Jones said. "It was like a snowball effect; everything that could go wrong went wrong. We battled. We stuck together. There's no dissension. Everybody in here is still upbeat. We have a long way to go."

Game notes
Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee took an important step in his recovery from two fractured bones just above his wrist joint when the cast on his right arm was removed Wednesday. Trainer Mark O'Neal said Lee will not resume baseball activities until he has regained full range of motion, which will take 10 days to two weeks. Lee was injured in a collision at first base with Los Angeles' Rafael Furcal on April 19. ... Right-hander Greg Maddux apparently was fine after experiencing stiffness in his back and legs following a 61-minute
rain delay on Tuesday. Maddux pitched 5 2/3 innings and got the win in an 8-3 victory over the Reds. ... The Reds optioned left-hander Brian Shackelford to Triple-A Louisville on Wednesday to make room for newly acquired right-hander Esteban Yan. The Reds acquired the 30-year-old Yan -- who had a 6.85 ERA in 13 games -- and an undisclosed amount of cash from the Los Angeles Angels for minor-league pitcher Kyle Edens on Tuesday.