Harden, Cubs climb atop Central for first time since April 21

CHICAGO -- Day, night, home, road ... Rich Harden says the when and where don't matter.

He proved it Sunday with a dominating 5-2 victory over the reeling, aching Cincinnati Reds that put the Chicago Cubs atop the NL Central for the first time since April 21.

After being told that manager Lou Piniella was pleased with his six-inning, one-hit performance, Harden smiled slyly and said: "Yeah, and it was during the day, too, wasn't it?"

Harden, whose previous Wrigley Field day victory had been Aug. 24, 2008, snapped two inexplicable trends: Going into Sunday, he had a 1-5 record and 7.38 ERA in day games (vs. 5-1, 2.23 at night) and a 2-5 record and 7.59 ERA at home (vs. 4-1, 2.03 on the road).

"I had a bad first half and, of course, I pitched a lot of day games," he said. "It's the way I was throwing the ball. It's not like they were going to try to change the rotation around just to have me start all these night games."

Actually, Piniella had planned to start Harden on Monday night and moved the right-hander up a day only after Ted Lilly had to go on the disabled list.

After allowing a home run to the game's third batter, Joey Votto, Harden (7-6) retired the final 16 men he faced. He struck out eight and walked none in his 90-pitch effort and has surrendered only one run in each of his last three starts.

He called the attention he had received regarding his home and day statistics "ridiculous" and said he's feeling better after making some midseason adjustments to his mechanics.

His Cubs are feeling good, too, winning 10 of their last 13 games to move a half-game ahead of St. Louis.

"We're headed in the right direction," Piniella said. "It's only a half-game, but we're on top."

As the two-time defending division champions -- and the NL Central team with by far the highest payroll -- the Cubs were expected to win again. Outfielder Milton Bradley didn't seem happy about the team's ascension, complaining about the demanding fans and media.

"Are we going to get more cheers now?" he asked reporters. "Are we going to start getting bashed ... in articles about our lineup and was it better last year and all that garbage?"

The Reds happily would settle for such problems. The loss wrapped up an 0-6 road trip, their first winless multiseries trip in five years, and they fear they've lost two more players to injury.

Starter Micah Owings left after three innings due to shoulder tightness and right fielder Chris Dickerson hurt his shoulder while diving in a failed attempt to catch Koyie Hill's eighth-inning triple. Cincinnati already has seven players on the DL.

Making things even more frustrating, the Reds had a potential rally snuffed out in their eighth on what replays showed was a missed call by home-plate umpire Laz Diaz.

Trailing 3-1, the Reds loaded the bases with one out against Angel Guzman. Edwin Encarnacion tried to score on Jerry Hairston Jr.'s flyball but was called out even though he slid home ahead of center fielder Kosuke Fukudome's throw.

"Man, Dickerson looks like he's hurt pretty good," said Reds manager Dusty Baker, who was obviously irritated. "Micah's shoulder is barking. Edwin was safe at the plate. Every day there's a call. Every day."

Dickerson said his injury reminded him of a torn rotator cuff he suffered in 2006. Owings said he didn't feel as bad as last year, when he missed most of the last two months with shoulder pain. Both players will be evaluated Monday in Cincinnati.

Owings (6-11) gave up two runs on three hits and four walks -- including one to Fukudome with the bases loaded -- in matching his shortest outing this season.

"As the game went on, it got stiffer and stiffer and tighter," he said. "I was missing some pitches by a foot and a half. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, taking myself out of the game, but I wasn't going to help by staying in there."

The Cubs went ahead 5-1 in their eighth on Hill's RBI triple and Fukudome's single. After Cincinnati scored a ninth-inning run off Jeff Samardzija, Kevin Gregg struck out Encarnacion for his 21st save.

Alfonso Soriano and Jake Fox drove in Chicago's other runs.

Game notes
It was the first time since May 2001 that the Cubs swept the Reds in a three-game home series ... Cubs 1B Derrek Lee, who suffered neck spasms after a hard slide Saturday, sat out Sunday but expects to play Monday.