Cubs 6, Nationals 5

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Dave
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Maybe a dislocated pinky was what Alfonso Soriano needed to help his swing.

Soriano smacked a go-ahead three-run homer, his first in more than a month, Mike Fontenot added a much-needed solo shot and Ryan Theriot hit a two-run triple to lift the Cubs to a tense 6-5 victory Saturday night over the Washington Nationals.

"It seemed like there was stuff going on all the time, but a win's a win," said Kevin Gregg, who picked up his 18th save with 1 2/3 innings of work. "We've been playing better baseball. Early on, we didn't look very good. Now, we're starting to look better. It's not exactly where we want to be, but we're looking better, and that's all we can ask for, is be on the upturn going into the second half."

The Cubs trailed, 4-2, in the sixth against rookie Jordan Zimmermann (3-5) when Derrek Lee doubled to lead off and Aramis Ramirez was safe on an error by second baseman Willie Harris, who fell trying to scoop up the ground ball. Milton Bradley struck out for the third time in the game, and then broke his bat over his knee. Soriano made even better contact when he crushed the first pitch to the opposite field for his 15th homer and first since June 7.

"I felt very comfortable at home plate," Soriano said. "I said I had a bad first half, so I hope every bad moment I had in the first half stays in the first half and I have a new second half."

"That's what we need," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "We'll dislocate a finger a week if it gives us a three-run homer."

He was kidding, and Soriano laughed when told Piniella's joke. He could smile after the game. The blast ended a streak of 120 homerless at-bats, the second-longest stretch of his career behind a 184 at-bat stretch from April 15-June 13, 2001, when he played for the Yankees. Soriano was back after missing Friday's game because of his right little finger, which he jammed sliding into first base. He realigned the digit himself, then spent Friday getting treatment. It worked.

"I hope it's over now. I hope I can be like I'm supposed to be, a great hitter with power," Soriano said. "I think the team, they need that."

He seems OK batting sixth as well.

"Most important is to help the team no matter where I am in the lineup," Soriano said. "Being in the lineup every day is more important for me."

Theriot smacked his two-run triple in the third, and Fontenot, who's been scuffling as well, connected with two outs in the eighth off Jason Bergmann for his seventh homer. It was his first since June 9.

Randy Wells (5-4) picked up the win despite giving up four runs for the second straight start. The Nationals jumped on Wells in the first as Nyjer Morgan doubled to lead off and Nick Johnson singled. Ryan Zimmerman hit a sacrifice fly and Adam Dunn followed with an RBI double. In the Washington second, Morgan and Johnson each hit RBI singles to go ahead, 4-0.

"It definitely wasn't pretty," Wells said. "It wasn't how I wanted to get a 'W,' but I'll take it."

His sinker wasn't sinking, he couldn't throw his changeup for strikes. Piniella was happy that the rookie gave the team a chance.

"It's a team game, and the team picked me up," Wells said. "I think when we can win these kind of ballgames, it's a sign that we're catching fire. I believe that and I'm sure everybody in here believes that."

The Nationals had two on and none out in the third, but Kosuke Fukudome helped end that inning when he made a running catch to the deepest part of center to snare Harris' ball. It got interesting in the seventh as Washington loaded the bases with one out, but the Cubs escaped thanks to groundouts. The Nationals loaded them again with one out in a tense eighth, and Zimmerman hit a sacrifice fly off Gregg, pitching for the third straight game.

"We had a chance to add on a couple times and didn't," Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. "It comes back to haunt you."

It won't show up in the stats, but Lee deserves a save as well, making two key plays in the seventh and eighth.

"That's my job as a first baseman, to make those plays," Lee said.

"I don't think he gets enough credit," Wells said.

"This guy gives confidence to all your infielders," Gregg said of Lee. "Catch the ball, throw it, and you know if you get it close to him, he's a giant over there, and he'll catch it. The guy's got the best hands in the game. And he can hit. He does the right thing with the bat as well. His defense -- I can't say enough about it."

Give the bullpen an assist, too.

"It's not always pretty when we go out there," Gregg said. "But a win's a win. It doesn't matter what it looks like. At the end of the year, nobody's going to look back and say, 'July 18, the bullpen did this.' They'll say, 'We won that day.'"

And Saturday was the Cubs' third win in a row.


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