Lilly takes no-hit bid into seventh inning of Cubs' win vs. Astros

MILWAUKEE -- Everyone from Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella to fellow starter Ryan Dempster needled Ted Lilly about having to follow up Carlos Zambrano's no-hitter.

Lilly sure came close to one of his own.

Lilly pitched no-hit ball until Mark Loretta's seventh-inning single and the Cubs beat the Astros 6-1 on Monday to sweep a two-game series moved from Houston by Hurricane Ike.

"There were a couple of guys before the game that let me know I had a lot of work to do to try and follow up Z," Lilly said. "There's so many things that it takes to go into a no-hitter for it to take place and so my expectations were just to go out there and try and make good pitches and be aggressive."

With Milwaukee abuzz over the Brewers' decision to fire manager Ned Yost, the Cubs finished off the two-game stand at Miller Park, filled with Cubs fans who made the 90-mile trek from Chicago.

"We'll be here soon enough for the end of the season," said Piniella, whose team improved to 6-0 in Milwaukee. The Cubs face the Brewers Sept. 26-28.

Hard-charging Houston had won 14 of 15 coming into the series, but the Cubs left the Astros 2½ games back of Milwaukee and Philadelphia, which share the NL wild-card lead.

"We need to move on," said Astros owner Drayton McLane, one of the few people in Miller Park wearing an orange shirt. "We've got a wonderful opportunity to win the wild card. We need to win games."

On Sunday, Zambrano pitched the Cubs' first no-hitter since Milt Pappas in 1972, leading Chicago to a 5-0 win. And until the seventh, Lilly appeared headed to a repeat.

"After what Z did last night, it would have been fun to do something I'm not sure has been done -- yet," Lilly said. "You don't know if you'll ever have that opportunity again, but I'll take tonight the way it was."

Aramis Ramirez's first-inning sacrifice fly and Jim Edmonds' homer off Brian Moehler (11-7) in the fifth built a 2-0 lead, and Derrek Lee and Geovany Soto hit two-run homers in the sixth.

Lilly (15-9) faced the minimum through six innings, allowing only a leadoff walk in the second to Lance Berkman, who was caught leaning off first and thrown out at second.

"All I was thinking was no way it could happen again," Soto said.

Reggie Abercrombie's hard grounder leading off the seventh was booted by third baseman Ramirez, who was charged with an error by official scorer Tim O'Driscoll.

"In all honesty, it probably could have gone either way," O'Driscoll said. "It's one of those decisions where you're the loneliest guy in town because everybody else's opinion really doesn't matter because somebody has to make that decision."

Loretta followed with a clean single to right.

"It was a real small moral victory there," Loretta said. "We couldn't muster up much energy these last two days."

Lilly, who has won at least 15 games in each of the last three seasons, was given a standing ovation by the crowd of 15,158. He allowed the one hit in seven innings, struck out nine and walked one.

"You know, when I leave him in, I get asked why I leave him in, when I take him out, I get asked why I take him out. I flipped a coin and it came 'out,'" Piniella deadpanned.

Lilly said he began thinking about the no-hit bid after the sixth.

"I knew even at that point there was still a lot of work to do," Lilly said. "It doesn't get easier the closer you get."

Astros manager Cecil Cooper thought Hurricane Ike may still be weighing on the minds of his players.

"It might have had an effect -- I still don't have power at my house -- but we're paid very well to play baseball so we have it a lot easier than most people back in Houston," Cooper said.

Houston didn't take batting practice before the game, which Cooper said was typical of afternoon starts, but the wear of the travel and aftermath of the storm was evident in the clubhouse.

Jose Valverde slept soundly on a couch before the game with highlights of Zambrano's historic performance Sunday night flickering on a nearby television screen.

"It feels like the regular season will resume tomorrow for us," Loretta said.

Game notes
Pinch-hitter David Newhan drove in Houston's run with a sacrifice fly off Carlos Marmol in the eighth. ... Moeller allowed five runs and six hits in five innings. ... Edmonds made a diving catch on pinch-hitter Brad Ausmus's short liner in the sixth. Ausmus entered after Humberto Quintero fouled an 0-2 pitch off a leg and left the game. "Jim's amazing, just in the short time that I've been able to play with him," Lilly said. "His instincts are as good or better than anyone I've ever seen out there in the outfield."