Catching the fever

Tribune staff reporter

It's starting to feel like déjà vu for Aramis Ramirez, one of the few Cubs who were around during the 2003 and '04 seasons, when every game felt like a playoff game at Wrigley Field.

Ramirez's two-out, two-run double in the eighth inning Monday night launched the Cubs to a 3-2 comeback win over San Francisco, shaking the foundation of the ancient ballpark.

Just like old times?

"We played pretty good in 2003 and 2004," Ramirez said. "Even though we didn't make the playoffs in 2004, we were 10 or 11 games over .500. And we're playing pretty good now. We've got a good lineup, good pitching and a good bullpen."

The Cubs ran their win streak to four straight since the All-Star break, and are 16-4 over their last 20 games. They remained 3½ games behind first-place Milwaukee in the NL Central.

Though Barry Bonds opted to sit out Monday's nationally televised game, no one seemed to miss him all that much.

Rich Hill and Giants rookie Tim Lincecum engaged in an intriguing duel for most of the night, before the Giants grabbed a 2-1 lead in the eighth in Guillermo Rodriguez's RBI single.

With two outs in the Cubs' half of the inning, Ryan Theriot reached on an infield hit and advanced to third on Derrek Lee's single to right on a hit-and-run. Second baseman Ray Durham was moving to second to cover the base when Lee's hit went right through the hole he vacated.

"We like to take chances at times," manager Lou Piniella said. "And it worked for us that particular time."

Ramirez, whose two-run, walk-off home run against Milwaukee on June 29 was the biggest hit of the season, drove a Kevin Correia pitch to the wall in left, scoring Theriot from third and Lee from first, setting off pandemonium at Wrigley Field.

"That's what they pay me for," Ramirez said. "To drive in runs. I'm not going to steal bases and I probably won't score a lot of runs. But I always try to drive in runs, and in this run we've had, I feel pretty good in the late innings.

"You want to be in that situation, you want to be the guy that wins the game. Lately, it's been up to me, and I've come through."

"Mr. Clutch," Hill said.

Ramirez stood and admired his shot, until realizing it wasn't going out of the park. It landed at the base of the outfield wall and Ramirez wound up on second. No harm, no foul.

"I thought it was gone because I hit it pretty good," he said. "I'll take it."

Cubs fan in the bleachers littered the field after Ramirez's shot, a recent tradition the Cubs aren't all that fond of.

"That's crazy, because we were winning," Ramirez said. "They usually do that when we're losing. I don't know. I guess they were too excited."

Hill (6-6) notched the win with an impressive eight-inning outing, allowing two runs on four hits. Hill, Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly have all excelled in their first starts since the break.

"It goes to show you, that if you watch your pitch counts and if you shorten them up from time to time, they respond much better," Piniella said.

Bob Howry came on in the ninth and posted his sixth save of the year.

"This was huge," Howry said. "We're in a place right now where even if we get down, we feel something good is going to happen. We got some key hits, and 'Rammy' drives in the big runs."

Since being snubbed for the All-Star Game, Ramirez has shown that he's one of the game's top third basemen. He has 10 game-winning RBIs, leading the team in clutch hitting.

"He's one of the elite," Piniella said. "He likes to be up there in those types of situations, and that's really what makes guys successful. That's the first step, and the most important step—having the confidence they can get it done. And he does."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad