PITTSBURGH - In the midst of a disappointing season, the Chicago Cubs started a game like no team has in almost two decades.
Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto and Kosuke Fukudome had two-run hits in a record-tying first inning and the Cubs handed the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates their 11th loss in 12 games, 9-4 on Tuesday night.
Chicago tied a major league record with eight consecutive hits to start the game. The most recent team to do that was the New York Yankees, on Sept. 25, 1990 against the Baltimore Orioles.
“We came out swinging the bats,” Chicago manager Lou Piniella said. “Base hits, base hits, base hits”
Micah Hoffpauir hit his ninth homer and Jeff Baker went 3 for 4 with a walk for the Cubs, who have won three of four in their quest to stay in the NL wild card race.
Garrett Jones hit his 19th homer for the Pirates, who are 18-42 since July 1. They established a record among major North American professional sports teams by clinching their 17th straight losing season Monday.
Arnold Palmer, a native of Latrobe, Pa., was honored in an elaborate pregame ceremony celebrating his 80th birthday. Before he could get to his seat the Cubs had scored six runs before an out was even recorded.
“I’ve never really seen anything like that, but it happened,” Pirates manager John Russell said. “It was just one of those things where we couldn’t stop it. You can’t explain it. It was just bad luck or good hitting, I don’t know what it is.”
The first five batters reached against Zach Duke via softly hit balls that either found their way through the infield or were placed fortuitously enough to lead to infield hits. Ramirez’s chopper through the left side drove in two runs.
“Its funny, too, because Zach’s a heck of a pitcher,” said leadoff batter Ryan Theriot, who went 2 for 5 with a run and an RBI. “He’s definitely not a guy you want to go out there and face on a daily basis.
“Things weren’t going his way, for sure, and we were just finding holes. Off a pitcher like Zach, you really don’t expect something like that to happen. The ball was bouncing our way. That’s how this game works, and it was in our favor in the first inning, for sure.”
Soto, the sixth batter, smashed a double off the wall in right-center that drove in two more.
Fukudome followed with a two-run double down the left-field line, giving the Cubs a 6-0 lead, and Bobby Scales then hit another infield single. Pitcher Ryan Dempster laid down a sacrifice bunt, eliciting sarcastic cheers from the sparse crowd of 17,862. A seventh run scored during the inning on a groundout.
Dempster was kidded by teammates that he was going to be fined for not breaking the record with a hit (though he did have an RBI single in the seventh).
“It’s a pretty good feeling when your team runs off eight hits in a row and scores seven runs before you even take the mound,” Dempster said. “It takes a lot of pressure off anybody. It was fun to watch the guys do that.”
Dempster (9-8) was effective for 6 1-3 innings, allowing four runs, eight hits and two walks with four strikeouts to win for the third time in his past four starts.
Through his first 25 starts of the season, Duke (10-14) had gone at least five innings every time, and at least six innings all but twice. In two of his past three outings, he was knocked out of the game early.
On Tuesday, he was charged with eight runs and 12 hits in four innings. He has lost five of his past six decisions and is 2-9 since beginning the season 8-5.
“I really don’t know how to explain today,” Duke said. “There was one ball hit hard — Soto’s ball off the wall — and other than that, things just seemed to find holes. I’ve got to just flush it out of my mind and move on.
“You just have to throw your pitches and try to execute, and hopefully stuff changes around for you and your luck changes and starts going your way instead of the way it has been going.”
NOTES: The most recent NL team to begin a game with eight hits was the Pirates on Aug. 26, 1975, against Atlanta. ... Cubs OF Milton Bradley left the game after the top of the first with tightness in his legs. He was replaced by Hoffpauir. ... Jones leads all rookies in homers. ... Piniella said before the game that injured OF Alfonso Soriano will not play until at least well into the team’s upcoming homestand, if then. Soriano has not played since Thursday due to left knee inflammation. ... The Cubs clinched winning a road series for the first time in five tries.
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