Rich Harden pitched six stellar innings to win a day game at Wrigley Field for the first time since last August and the Chicago Cubs moved into first place with a 5-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday.
The Cubs have won 10 of their last 13 games to move a half-game ahead of St. Louis in the NL Central, their first appearance in the top spot since April 21.
The Reds wrapped up an 0-6 road trip, getting outscored 43-20 in their first winless multi-series trip in five years. After laboring through three innings, Cincinnati starter Micah Owings was pulled with what the team called a “tight right shoulder.”
Harden (7-6) snapped out of two inexplicable – and, he claimed, purely coincidental – funks: 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).
Harden originally had been scheduled to start Monday night because manager Lou Piniella wanted to avoid using him during the afternoon. An injury to fellow starter Ted Lilly, however, resulted in Harden moving up in the rotation.
It didn’t matter when or where Harden pitched Sunday, as he dominated the reeling Reds.
After allowing a home run to the game’s third batter, Joey Votto, Harden 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.
Trailing 3-1 in the eighth, the Reds loaded the bases with one out against Angel Guzman. Jerry Hairston Jr. lofted a shallow fly to center fielder Kosuke Fukudome, who threw home, and Edwin Encarnacion was called out by umpire Laz Diaz. Reds manager Dusty Baker argued and replays indicated Encarnacion was safe.
The Cubs went ahead 5-1 in their eighth when Koyie Hill had an RBI triple and scored on Fukudome’s single. After Cincinnati scored a ninth-inning run off Jeff Samardzija, Kevin Gregg struck out Encarnacion for his 21st save.
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.
Alfonso Soriano and Jake Fox drove in Chicago’s other runs.
Notes: Reds RF Chris Dickerson left in the eighth inning after diving while trying to catch Hill’s triple. … 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.