Aramis Ramirez drove in four runs, Derrek Lee and Geovany Soto each hit two-run homers, and Alfonso Soriano homered and added two RBI singles to spark the Cubs to a 12-6 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.
"I think everybody came back fresh and forgot the first half, and it's a new season for us," Soriano said.
Since Lou Piniella joined the team in 2007, the Cubs have posted a 121-95 record after the All-Star break. They're now 1-0.
"You look at the number of runs we manufacture and we score, and I think that will tell a big part of the story," Piniella said of the second half hopes.
The Cubs' high expectations were doused momentarily when starter Ryan Dempster (8-7) served up a towering two-run homer to Ryan Howard in the Phillies' first. It was the 17th off Dempster this season; he gave up 22 in 200 innings last year.
"After [Howard] hit it, I came in the dugout and said, 'Welcome back -- I missed all you guys,'" Dempster said. "Those are going to happen, especially with a guy like that, when you leave a ball over the plate and back over the middle. He doesn't miss too many of those, and he hits them a long way. I knew it was early, and we came right back after that."
Howard added another two-run blast in the ninth off Bob Howry, but by then the Cubs had reached double digits for the first time since a 12-1 win over the Angels on June 20.
The Cubs' biggest run came in the second without the benefit of a hit. Rookie Starlin Castro tripled with one out and stole home on a suicide squeeze as Dempster squared to bunt. Phillies starter Jamie Moyer (9-9) bounced the pitch in and it got away from catcher Carlos Ruiz long enough for Castro to score and put the Cubs ahead, 3-2. He's the first Cubs player to record a straight steal of home since April 13, 1996, when Brian McRae did so in the first inning at San Francisco.
Piniella admitted he's never called for a suicide that early in a game.
"It wasn't a hunch," he said. "We figured we'd try a few things different. No, I never have [called it in the second]. Hopefully, I never will again."
Dempster is a good bunter, but Moyer didn't give him a good pitch to hit.
"It's hard to bunt a ball out of the batter's box that bounces in," Dempster said. "I need to take a page out of Vladimir Guerrero's book. I tried to throw my bat at it and hopefully hit it, and it was nowhere to be seen. Good job by Castro."
As for Castro, he missed hitting for the cycle by a home run as he also singled in the sixth and doubled in the seventh. The 20-year-old shortstop's parents, sister and brother are in town from the Dominican Republic, arriving after the All-Star break. They may stay for the entire season if he gets three hits a game.
"They bring good luck," Castro said.
Ramirez can deliver RBIs, and the four matched his season high, done July 6 at Arizona. He's now batting .350 (21-for-60) with five doubles, a triple, five homers and 14 RBIs in his last 15 games, dating to June 26.
"I'm getting a lot of opportunities, too," Ramirez said. "Tonight I went to the plate with men in scoring position four times. I feel better at the plate. I have to keep doing it."
"Track records show that you hit, and sometimes whether it's injuries or funks or whatever they are, sometimes it takes a while to get out of," Dempster said. "Given [Ramirez's] numbers in the first half, it's kind of scary to think what he might do in the second half. He's a big part of our lineup, and he's always been a huge RBI guy. We're going to need everybody to chip in the second half to do anything here."
Lee's homer, his 11th, came with one on and none out in the third. Two outs later, Soriano connected, sending a 2-2 pitch from Moyer onto Waveland Avenue behind the left-field seats for his team-leading 16th homer. That was Moyer's last inning.
"I don't know if [the problem] was necessarily the first," Moyer said. "It was the first, second and third. Tonight, it was all about execution. I don't feel like I executed the way I can, and I feel like it's up to me to do something about it."
The Cubs added five runs in the seventh off Jose Contreras on Ramirez's second two-run double, an RBI single by Soriano and Soto's two-run homer.
"We have a long way to go and a lot of ground to make up," Dempster said. "I've said all along, the easiest way is to take it one game at a time."
Ninety games down, 72 to go.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less