Cubs 7, Nationals 2


WASHINGTON – Alfonso Soriano still has great times at RFK Stadium, even when he’s wearing another team’s uniform.

Soriano returned to the stadium that helped earn him a nine-digit contract and looked right at home again, getting two hits, a run, an RBI and a stolen base in the Chicago Cubs’ 7-2 victory over the Washington Nationals.

Manager Lou Piniella was concerned that this would be a trap series for the Cubs, who were leaving an 8-1 homestand before energized crowds at Wrigley Field to play a last-place team in a half-empty stadium. He needn’t have worried: Soriano and three other players had at least two hits, and Ted Lilly (7-4) allowed only three hits over seven innings to put Chicago (41-40) above .500 for the first time since they were 16-15 on May 9.

Before the game, Soriano visited Washington’s clubhouse and spoke of his fond memories of his eventful but productive season in the nation’s capital. He reluctantly converted from second base to left field, then hit 46 home runs and stole 41 bases in a blockbuster performance that earned him a $136 million, eight-year contract as a free agent from the Cubs in November.

Soriano flied to the warning track in center to open the game, but the next three batters reached base as the Cubs went on to score in each of the first four innings. Aramis Ramirez had a two-run double in the first, Soriano drove in a run with a single in the second, and four straight singles followed by a sacrifice fly accounted for two more runs in the third.

That was the end of the night for Washington starter Jason Simontacchi (5-6), who lasted only three innings for the second time in three starts. He allowed five runs and seven hits for the Nationals, who have lost six of seven.

The Cubs scored two more in the fourth when Mark DeRosa hit a bases-loaded single that deflected off reliever Billy Traber’s glove. Soriano had opened the inning with a single and his 11th stolen base.

Lilly won his third consecutive decision. He walked the first two batters he faced but had a no-hitter through 4 1-3 innings. Brian Schneider broke it up with a double off the right field wall in the fifth, and Nook Logan brought Schneider home with a double down the left field line.

Austin Kearns added an RBI single in the ninth for the Nationals, who have scored three runs or fewer in nine straight games.

Notes: One day after his selection to the All-Star game, Soriano was named National League Player of the Month for June. He led the majors with 11 home runs and had an NL-leading 41 hits. … The Cubs are above .500 at the midpoint of their season for the first time since 2004 (46-35). … In addition to the possible letdown in opening a road trip against a losing team, Piniella is also wary about the Cubs easing up in anticipation of the All-Star break vacation. “Let’s just take three days off instead four or five,” he said. “We need to play good on this road trip is all I’m trying to say. We can’t look forward to the break.” … Simontacchi has had a decision in every start this season. Boston’s Tim Wakefield (8-8) is the only other pitcher to make at least 10 starts and get a decision in every one.

AP-ES-07-02-07 2207EDT