Harden nets first win as Cubs top Reds

Harden nets first win as Cubs cruise

CHICAGO -- Did you have flashbacks fourth inning Tuesday night? Or were you just numb from the cold?

The Cubs led, 2-1, in the Reds' fourth en route to a 7-2 victory when a cat ran onto the outfield during Joey Votto's at-bat. A security guard cornered the feline and lifted it by its tail off the field near the Cubs' bullpen. Votto walked.

"I've seen that before somewhere with other animals, maybe a squirrel in Oakland," Rich Harden said. "What can you do? You have to stay focused."

Remember the black cat that crossed in front of Ron Santo in the on-deck circle at Shea Stadium in 1969?

"It was a white cat," Lou Piniella said of Tuesday's four-legged visitor, trying to defuse any bad vibes.

"It wasn't black," Chicago's Micah Hoffpauir said. "C'mon -- it was brown. Maybe there's something to that. It was a brown cat, not a black cat."

One out later, Jay Bruce lofted a ball in foul territory along the left-field line. Alfonso Soriano chased it down, but a gloved fan snared it. There were more than a few fans in the well-chilled crowd of 38,403 who remembered what happened in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series and booed the fan. Bruce then hit a single, driving in Votto to tie the game.

"I didn't think anything of it," Hoffpauir said of the play, "but when the fans started booing, then you start thinking about it."

But the Cubs overcame the allusions to the past.

Hoffpauir, subbing for a hampered Milton Bradley, hit a solo homer and a tie-breaking sacrifice fly and Aramis Ramirez had three hits and three RBIs to back Harden, who shrugged off the cold to beat the Reds.

Harden (1-1), in short sleeves despite 40-degree game-time temperatures more suitable for parkas and scarves, struck out eight while yielding just three hits, including Bruce's solo homer with one out in the second, over six innings.

One of two Canadian pitchers on the Cubs, Harden simply ignored the cold.

"I really feel at home in this kind of weather," he said. "I feel stronger later in the game."

What helped was his ability to get ahead of hitters and be more efficient with his pitches. In his previous start against Colorado, he threw 92 pitches over three innings. On Tuesday, he threw 92 over six.

Hoffpauir tied the game at 1 with a leadoff home run in the second, launching a 1-2 pitch from Micah Owings (0-2) over the right-field bleachers onto Sheffield Avenue. Ramirez singled and scored two batters later on Ryan Theriot's single. Ramirez added a two-run single in the sixth. Both of Ramirez's RBI hits were to the opposite field.

"The guy throws real slow breaking balls," Ramirez said. "If I try to pull, I strike out or ground out there."

It's just smart baseball. The Cubs also drew seven walks in the game.

"That's a key part of having good at-bats is being patient, being selective," Chicago's Derrek Lee said. "Having baserunners is a key, and tonight, we drove them in."

After the Reds tied the game, the Cubs loaded the bases with one out in the fifth, taking advantage of an error by left fielder Chris Dickerson, who dropped a Lee fly ball. Hoffpauir's sacrifice fly made it 3-2, and Ramirez added an RBI single to chase Owings. Mike Lincoln hit a batter to load the bases, then walked Geovany Soto to force in a run.

"Get on base, and you're going to eventually start driving runs in," Hoffpauir said. "The at-bats Ramirez had tonight are a testament to that."

Bradley, sidelined with a strained groin since April 12, could be back as soon as Wednesday, which means Hoffpauir will be back on the bench.

"[Hoffpauir] is doing the job," Piniella said. "I need the other guy [Bradley] to get in there to get some at-bats and get himself on track, too. Plus, Hoffpauir does a nice job pinch-hitting, too."

Hoffpauir knows his role.

"[Bradley] is the right fielder, and my job is to bridge the gap from the time he left to the time he comes back," Hoffpauir said. "If I can do that successfully and with production, then great. That's what I'm supposed to do. I'm going to try to do that to the best of my abilities."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.