PITTSBURGH - In what is fast becoming a lost season for them, the Chicago Cubs must be wondering how much better they would be if Nomar Garciaparra had stayed healthy.
Garciaparra and Michael Barrett homered in a three-run sixth inning, and Greg Maddux, dominating for five innings but unable to get another out after that, got his 316th career victory as the Cubs beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-3 on Friday night.
Maddux (11-11) probably has five starts remaining if he stays healthy, and he must win four for his 18th consecutive season of 15 or more victories.
Todd Walker had a run-scoring single following Neifi Perez’s double in the third, then started the decisive sixth with a single for his third hit. Garciaparra, filling in at third base for the injured Aramis Ramirez, followed with a drive off a left-field catwalk for his third homer in four games. He drove in three runs and made a run-saving defensive play at third, a position he has barely played.
“I’m just swinging,” Garciaparra said. “It’s just like third base — you go out there and work on that as well, and it’s a constant adjustment and constantly working on it every day.”
Barrett hit his 14th on a deeper drive to left two batters after Garciaparra’s homer — the 26th homer off Josh Fogg (6-10), who has won only twice in 16 starts. Fogg permitted four runs and eight hits in 5 1-3 innings.
Garciaparra also homered Monday and Tuesday after previously having only two homers in limited playing time resulting from a groin injury on April 20. He has all five of his homers since being activated off the disabled list Aug. 5.
“He’s hitting the ball great since he came back,” Walker said. “He’s had some health issues that probably caused him to not swing the bat like he’s capable. But lately it’s been good, then you start thinking it’s been unfortunate we didn’t have him all year.”
Maddux limited the Pirates to one hit and struck out six over five innings, only to be lifted in the sixth after Jack Wilson, pinch-hitter Nate McLouth, Freddy Sanchez and Rob Mackowiak singled in succession.
“He was feeling kind of tired all day,” manager Dusty Baker said of getting Maddux out quickly. “He’s pitched a lot of innings.”
With two runs in, runners on first and third and no outs, reliever Michael Wuertz struck out the Nos. 3-5 hitters — Jason Bay, Craig Wilson and Ryan Doumit — to strand the potential tying run on base.
“That ball’s down the line, it’s two runs,” Baker said. “That’s the play of the night.”
The Pirates cut it to 4-3 in the eighth on doubles by Bay and Doumit off Roberto Novoa. After that, Ryan Dempster got the final four outs for his 21st save in 23 opportunities, but only after left fielder Hairston threw out Jack Wilson at the plate to end the game after the Pirates had three hits in the ninth.
Fogg blamed himself for not keeping the game close in the sixth, which began with the Cubs leading 1-0.
“It’s a results-oriented game and, overall, I haven’t gotten the results,” Fogg said. “It’s the story of my year — I had a bad inning.”
Notes: The Cubs won for the fourth time in 12 games to avoid falling a season-low eight games under .500. They went 10-18 in August. ... Maddux needs two more wins to tie Phil Niekro on the career victories list. ... With Lloyd McClendon serving his one-game suspension for the Aug. 24 batting practice run-in with the Cardinals, bench coach Pete Mackanin managed the Pirates. ... The Cubs are 9-3 against the Pirates this season, 5-1 at PNC Park. ... Four of the Pirates’ five most-used starting pitchers have 10 or more losses: Fogg and Dave Williams have 10 and Mark Redman and Kip Wells have 14. ... Maddux has never had a full season in the majors when he didn’t win at least 15. He was 6-14 for the Cubs in 1987, the last season he spent time in the minors. ... The Pirates (55-79) have dropped 10 of 12 and seven of eight and are three losses from a 13th consecutive losing season.
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