HOUSTON -- Ted Lilly came out to pitch the second inning Tuesday night with the front of his jersey caked in dirt after he had made a headfirst slide into third base for his first career triple.
As fashion statements go, it was certainly one of the trendier looks a Cubs pitcher has had in years, and one that probably would endear him to Little Leaguers across America.
Lilly eventually switched into a clean jersey, but continued to look filthy on the mound in a 7-1 victory over Houston.
"I had a lot of fun," Lilly said of his triple. "I didn't realize how tired I'd be running from home to third. I'd never experienced that. I think that was the first one I'd ever had. I had one in softball one time."
The Cubs left-hander threw 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball, allowing three hits while striking out four and improving to 7-4.
With none of the Cubs position players leading in the All-Star balloting and no one having a great offensive year, Lilly could wind up as the Cubs only representative at the Midsummer Classic in St. Louis if he continues to pitch at his current pace.
Mike Fontenot celebrated his 29th birthday in style, knocking out four hits, including his first home run since May 3, as the Cubs won for the fourth time in the last five games and moved three games above .500 at 29-26.
"If I could have games like this, I wish it was my birthday every day," Fontenot said. "But then I'd be pretty old."
The Cubs are now 5-1 in Minute Maid Park, with two games remaining here this season. They knocked out Astros starter Brian Moehler after two innings and collected 16 hits on the night.
After the game, Jake Fox was optioned to Triple-A Iowa to make room for infielder Aaron Miles.
Manager Lou Piniella said he would stick with slumping players such as Geovany Soto, Milton Bradley and Alfonso Soriano because he expects them all to contribute before long. Bradley went 0-for-6, stranding 10 base-runners.
"What am I going to do?" Piniella said. "You know what's amazing? From a manager's perspective, if you make too many changes, you get criticized for not being patient, and nobody knows where they're hitting.
"And if you wait too long, people say, 'Well, this guy is not doing anything.' To me, this is our best lineup for what we're doing now.
"We're going to stay as constant as we can, assuming we stay healthy. We just have to battle our way out of this thing. We're better than what we've done."
Piniella has endured his fair share of criticism this season, especially after spending his first two years in Chicago on a prolonged honeymoon.
Most of the complaints have centered on Piniella's alleged lack of fire, based on the fact he doesn't get into heated battles with umpires the way did in earlier managerial stints in Cincinnati, Seattle and Tampa Bay.
"I get yelled at because I'm not arguing with the umpires enough," he said.
Who's yelling at Piniella? Is it his boss, Crane Kenney?
Piniella replied it was the fans, not the Cubs' chairman.
"No, the fans [yell] 'Get out there and get these guys going,' " he said. "Anyway, we just have to keep plugging along."
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