Perez, Ramirez spark Chicago to second win in five games

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Chicago Cubs have waited nearly two weeks for that one big hit or rally to jump-start a slow-starting season. Maybe these two hits will do it.

Neifi Perez doubled in the go-ahead run in the seventh and Aramis Ramirez hit a three-run homer to carry Chicago past the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3 on Saturday night, only their second victory in five games.

Perez went 2-for-4, giving him nine hits in four games, and Ramirez hit his first homer since Opening Day as the Cubs bounced back from an 8-5 loss Friday in which they squandered three different two-run leads.

Cubs reliever Chad Fox, who gave up Bobby Hill's decisive two-run double in the eighth inning Friday, struck out David Ross with the bases loaded and two out to preserve the lead in the eighth. Ross went 0-for-4 after homering twice Friday.

"That kind of win right there, that's the kind of win that gets a team going," Fox said. "We've been kind of up and down, up and down. It's so early, but this team, once we get clicking, it's going to be a fun ride."

LaTroy Hawkins, who struggled frequently last season as the Cubs' closer, pitched the ninth for their first save of the season. He didn't convert his only other save opportunity this season and was 25-of-35 in save conversions since joining the Cubs.

"I'm just glad for him, because he's had trouble in the past with one-run saves," manager Dusty Baker said. "We needed that one. That was a big game for us."

Pirates starter Kip Wells (0-3), coming off two poor starts, was allowed to start the seventh despite throwing 102 pitches through six innings and immediately walked pinch-hitter Mike Fontenot.

After Corey Patterson sacrificed, Perez doubled to left to score Fontenot and chase Wells, who remained winless at home since the 2004 season opener. He is 0-5 in 11 starts at PNC Park since beating Philadelphia 2-1 on April 5, 2004.

Ramirez's homer came in the third after Patterson singled and
Nomar Garciaparra walked with two outs.

"I didn't have a lot of authority on it. I kind of guided that pitch in there and he jumped all over it," Wells said.

Ramirez disagreed, saying Wells had a lot on a 95-mph fastball.

"I hit that one pretty good," he said. "I think the velocity on the fastball helped it, too. If you put the bat on it, it's going to go."

Cubs starter Ryan Dempster (1-2), moved up a day so Baker could reconfigure his rotation, yielded six hits and three runs in six innings. Dempster has lasted six innings in consecutive starts, the longest he's gone since having reconstructive elbow surgery two years ago.

Dempster fought with his control in the first inning, walking three of the first four batters ahead of Daryle Ward's RBI single. Dempster didn't walk any after that but allowed Matt Lawton's solo homer in the third -- his first with Pittsburgh -- and Rob Mackowiak's run-scoring infield single in the fifth.

With runners on first and third and two out, Mackowiak just beat shortstop Garciaparra's offline throw that pulled first baseman
Derrek Lee off the bag. Mackowiak was given a hit.

Todd Hollandsworth tripled in the Cubs' eighth but was thrown out easily at the plate trying to push their lead to two runs after the relay throw briefly eluded Mackowiak at third. Reliever Salomon Torres, backing up the play, threw out Hollandsworth by about 15 feet.

Wells gave up 12 runs in 12 1/3 innings in his first two starts, both against Milwaukee, and has a 7.23 ERA. But he's thrown 227 pitches in his last two starts, an encouraging sign for a pitcher who missed most of the final two months of last season with a sore elbow.

"I'm 0-3 with a high ERA, but I feel good about the way I'm throwing," he said. "But the goal is to win and that's not happening."

Game notes
The Pirates have alternated winning and losing for eight games since dropping their first three. ... Perez, who didn't make
his first start until a week into the season, is 10-for-19 in his last six games. He credits extra time in the batting cage. ... The Cubs' Michael Barrett went 0-for-3 and is now hitless in 17 at-bats. ... Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson halted an 0-for-14 slide with a double in the fifth.