Cubs Keep Pace: Ramirez fuels 5-4 victory

CINCINNATI, Ohio - While there were 32 active players on the Chicago Cubs roster Thursday night at Great American Ball Park, it was the Aramis Ramirez show with which folks were treated to in the Queen City. Ramirez slugged three homeruns and drove in all five Cub runs in a 5-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

The Cub third baseman got things rolling with a 2-run shot off Reds starter Josh Hancock in the first to give Chicago a quick 2-0 lead.

After Sean Casey singled home Ryan Freel in the Cincinnati fourth to make it 2-1, Ramirez stepped to the plate a half-inning later and connected again off Hancock, making his 10th career start in a major league uniform.

Ramirez' second homer made it 3-1 in favor of the Cubs, who won their 80th game of the season and fourth in a row. The team also kept pace with San Francisco, who won its fifth straight Thursday. The Cubs trail the Giants by a half-game in the National League Wildcard standings.

Kerry Wood started and won his 12th decision lifetime against the Reds. Wood (8-7) gave up the Cubs two-run lead in the bottom of the fifth when he threw a wild pitch to score Wily Mo Pena and one out later surrendered a two-run go-ahead double to Reds catcher Jason LaRue.

Still trailing 4-3 in the seventh, Corey Patterson reached on a Casey error with one away.

Then with right-hander Ryan Wagner on to pitch, Ramirez tattoed a 2-2 pitch from the Reds' first round pick in their 2003 draft to left-center for another 2-run homer that put the North Siders back on top 5-4.

Kent Mercker worked a scoreless eighth and LaTroy Hawkins finished things off in the ninth for his 22nd save of the season.

Hawkins retired Austin Kearns on a fly out and then struck out Pena swinging. He then allowed a deep fly to right, which Sammy Sosa was able to grab for the final out. Hawkins has been scored upon only once in nine innings this month for a miniscule ERA of 1.00.

Wood went seven innings, allowing all four Cincinnati runs on five hits. He struck out nine and walked four. Wagner (3-2) took the loss.

Carlos Zambrano will go for the Cubs in game two of the four-game series, slated for Friday night at 6:10 CDT. He will face rookie right-hander Luke Hudson.

Game Notes: Ramirez' three-homer game was his second of the season. He also went deep three times back on July 30 against Philadelphia at Wrigley Field. The Cubs' third baseman is now only one homerun shy of his career-high 34 set back in 2001 with the Pirates. Furthermore, his heroics broke the Cubs' team record for most homeruns in a single season. The previous record was 212 set back in 1998 during Sosa's magical 66-HR season.

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