Cubs pound three straight homers in first inning

CHICAGO (AP) -- Sammy Sosa appears to have found his swing, and

the timing couldn't be better for the Chicago Cubs.

Sosa hit his first grand slam in more than two years, and also

had a solo homer as the Cubs hit three straight in the first inning

on their way to a 13-5 rout of the Pittsburgh Pirates that kept

them on pace in the chase for the NL wild card.

"He's swinging the bat great," teammate Derrek Lee said.

"When he's swinging the bat like he is now, he can carry a team on

his back."

The rest of the Cubs aren't too bad, either. Lee, Sosa and

Michael Barrett connected in succession in the first inning, and

Neifi Perez added a two-run shot in the sixth as the Cubs took

advantage of a shaky outing by Oliver Perez (10-9).

The left-hander, who had allowed three earned runs or fewer in

all but two of his previous 17 starts, gave up 10 hits -- four

homers -- and six runs in 5 2-3 innings. He also walked four and

struck out five.

"He just elevated some pitches and it cost him," Pirates

manager Lloyd McClendon said.

Michael Wuertz (1-0) got the win, striking out two in one

inning. Ryan Dempster worked two scoreless innings for his first

career save.

Lee's homer was his 30th of the season, giving the Cubs four

players -- Lee, Sosa, Moises Alou and Aramis Ramirez -- with 30

homers or more. They are the 10th major league team to accomplish

the feat, and the first since Toronto and Anaheim did it in 2000.

"That's cool to be a part of," Lee said. "It just speaks to

how good our lineup is, all the way through."

But will it be enough to carry the Cubs to the playoffs as the

wild card?

Chicago remained a half-game behind San Francisco, which beat

Milwaukee 8-1. The Cubs left Wrigley Field on Wednesday night for a

12-game road trip.

"It's difficult, but I don't want to hear anybody

complaining," manager Dusty Baker said. "We're down the stretch,

and the end of the race is always difficult."

But it will be easier if Sosa is hitting like the Slammin' Sammy

of old. Sosa has had a subpar season, hitting .261 for the year and

only .247 since he came back from the disabled list June 18. On

Saturday, he was dropped to sixth in the lineup for the first time

in more than 10 years.

Sosa looked as if he'd found his groove Wednesday, though, going

3-for-4 with a walk. The grand slam, off Mark Corey in the eighth

inning, was the eighth of his career and first since Aug. 11, 2002.

It also was the 66th multihomer game of his career, and his

first since June 27 against the White Sox.

"It's nice to see Sammy swinging the bat so well," Baker said.

"Hopefully, this is the start of great things."

With the wind blowing out of Wrigley at 16 mph when the game

began, conditions were perfect for Sosa and the rest of the Cubs.

Lee, Sosa and Barrett all homered off Oliver Perez with two outs to

give Chicago a four-run lead, but the Pirates rallied against Mark

Prior in the second inning to tie it.

The Pirates took the lead on Jose Castillo's second RBI in the

fifth, and the Cubs failed to score in the bottom of the inning

after Oliver Perez loaded the bases with three straight one-out


But Neifi Perez hit a two-run homer in the sixth, and Sosa broke

the game open in the eighth.

Neifi Perez led off with a single off Pittsburgh reliever John

Grabow, and Alou drew a walk. Corey relieved, but he wasn't much

better, walking Lee to load the bases for Sosa.

The crowd of 38,395 got to its feet, and Sosa didn't disappoint,

sending a 2-2 pitch high above the left-field fence and bouncing

down Waveland Avenue. The fans roared as Sosa rounded the bases,

and continued to applaud until he came out for a brief curtain


He declined to comment after the game, hurrying to pack for the

Cubs' road trip.

"It was a pretty good ballgame for six innings," McClendon

said. "It just got out of hand. Our bullpen couldn't do its job

and keep us in it."

But give the Cubs some credit, too, Jason Kendall said.

"This is a hot team right now," he said. "What can you do?"

^Notes:@ Sosa passed Ernie Banks for the most home runs at Wrigley

Field (291). ... Cubs 3B Ramon Martinez left the game in the sixth

inning with a strained left groin. ... Pittsburgh has lost its last

seven road games.