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Soriano’s 2-run HR in 8th lifts Cubs past Pirates

By Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune –

PITTSBURGH — Alfonso Soriano donned a Deion Sanders Falcons jersey after Sunday’s 4-2 win over the Pirates, part of Dale Sveum’s idea to celebrate the start of the NFL season by wearing uniforms of their favorite teams on the flight to Houston.

Soriano didn’t have football growing up in the Dominican Republic, so he didn’t really have a rooting interest. But he said he chose “Prime Time” because he respected Sanders for being able to play professional baseball and football at the same time.

In a season that has evolved into an audition for most of the young players in the clubhouse, the 36-year-old Soriano has been the Cubs’ only prime time position player. His two-run, eighth-inning home run off Pirates reliever Jason Grilli snapped a 2-2 tie Sunday, giving the Cubs their first road sweep in more than a year.

With 28 home runs and 94 RBIs, Soriano is among the National League leaders in both categories, while ranking fourth in outfield assists with 10. Instead of trying to figure out a way to unload Soriano’s contract, the Cubs probably should be thanking him for making a miserable season just a little more tolerable.

Despite closing in on 100 RBIs for the first time in a Cubs uniform, Soriano said his first two seasons in Chicago in 2007 and ‘08 were more productive.

“But now I think it’s more important because I’m like 36 years old and working,” he said. “I’ve got my hands and my power. I want to prove to my teammates and people outside that I’m 36, but I don’t feel like I’m 36. I can do a lot of things in this game.”

While he won’t get any MVP votes because of the Cubs’ poor record, Soriano has proven he’s still one of the league’s elite power hitters.

“’Sori’ came up huge again for us,” Sveum said. “Looks like he’s on a mission right now. Since May 15, he and (Ryan) Braun are neck-and-neck in RBIs and homers. Sori has had one heck of a 41/2months up to this point. He’s been pretty spectacular.”

Rookie left-hander Chris Rusin pitched five strong innings, rebounding from a dismal one-inning performance Tuesday in Washington, and Carlos Marmol survived a shaky ninth to post his 18th save.

Josh Vitters snapped an 0-for-27 streak with a solo homer, while catcher Anthony Recker cranked his first career home run.

After Sveum admitted his team was “manhandled” by Washington during a four-game sweep, the Cubs bounced back to put a dent in the Pirates’ playoff hopes. The last time the Cubs swept a series on the road was Aug. 1-4, 2011, in Pittsburgh, and they’re now 6-20 on the road since the All-Star break, with five of those wins coming at PNC Park.

Strangely, Soriano’s 28 homers have all come in his last 100 games, after he started out homerless in his first 30.

“I know when I’m healthy I can produce,” he said. “Now, what I do, I just do it for fun because we’re going nowhere. But I love this game and this is what I love to do.”

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