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Must C Clutch: Soriano drills go-ahead homer in 11th

SEATTLE -- For the second straight game, the bullpen imploded, but this time the Cubs overcame the breakdown and may have found a new closer candidate.

Alfonso Soriano hit a two-run homer in the 11th inning to beat the pesky Mariners, 5-3, on Saturday night, with Blake Parker picking up his first Major League save.

With the game tied at 3 in the 11th, Nate Schierholtz reached on a bunt single against Oliver Perez, and Soriano followed with his ninth home run. Soriano also hit an RBI single in the sixth, and he is now batting .386 in 25 career games as the designated hitter with nine home runs and 24 RBIs.

"The DH thing is working," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "A couple days off hopefully helped him get to that form he was doing this time last year when he took off, too."

Perez struck Soriano out in the ninth inning on Friday in the Mariners' 5-4, 10-inning victory. Saturday was different. Perez threw two fastballs, then a breaking ball.

"When I saw the breaking ball, it gave me more confidence at home plate," Soriano said. "I wanted to try to swing at a strike and make good contact, and he threw me a fastball in the middle, and I had a good swing."

At 37, Soriano may be a better suited to be a designated hitter. His name was bantered about last year prior to the Trade Deadline.

"Who knows? I just come to the ballpark every day and just try to do my job," Soriano said. "I don't want to put anything in my mind. The last couple years, always trade rumors and nothing happens. I just want to focus day by day and see what happens."

The Cubs were wearing replica uniforms from the 1909 season, when they won 104 games under manager Frank Chance and finished second in the National League. That year, they were coming off their second straight World Championship, which, at this point, is the last one. They could've used Mordecai Brown on Saturday.

Seattle trailed 3-2 in the ninth and rallied with one out against Kevin Gregg as Henry Blanco walked and was lifted for pinch-runner Michael Saunders, who moved up on Nick Franklin's groundout. Endy Chavez then lined a single to center to tie the game. It was Gregg's first blown save in 13 opportunities.

"I got the ball up a little bit, and he fought it off to get it over second base," Gregg said of Chavez.

"It wasn't the greatest pitch selection," Sveum said.

That left Parker, who totaled seven saves at Triple-A Iowa this year. He had pitched 1 1/3 innings on Friday, but looked fresh and retired the side in order.

"He showed me a lot today," Sveum said of the right-hander. "That's a nice asset, to know it wasn't a deer in the headlights in that situation in the big leagues."

"It's a position I'm comfortable in, for sure," Parker said. "Going out there in tight situations is where any competitor wants to be. When it's a close game and for all the marbles and everything's on the line, usually that's when most people are at their best. Gregg's done a great job all year, and I'll go out and compete no matter what role I'm in."

Before the game, Sveum hinted he may turn to Parker, who admitted he's still learning how to pitch in the big leagues.

"You're expected to pitch every day, and that's the approach I took, and I got myself ready to pitch and I was ready when my number was called," Parker said.

Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija turned back the clock on himself before the contest, watching video of a Notre Dame vs. Washington game from 2005 when he caught eight passes for 164 yards and a touchdown. He notched his 11th quality start, but couldn't get the win after the Mariners tied it. The right-hander, who ranks among the National League leaders in strikeouts, fanned five.

"The last time I was in Seattle was that game, and I figured I'd watch it and get a little good juju from it and see what happens," Samardzija said. "It's kind of funny to watch. It's kind of funny to see that as I get older. I thought I was still pretty young, but that's changing in a hurry."

In 1909, Joe Tinker and Frank Schulte led the Cubs with four home runs each. Starlin Castro hit his fourth of the season with one out in the first. Chicago now has homered in nine straight games.

The Mariners, who didn't exist in 1909 -- the city did have the Seattle Turks, a Minor League team -- tied the game in the second on Justin Smoak's solo shot with one out. Mike Zunino followed Smoak's blast with a double and then scored on Dustin Ackley's single.

Luis Valbuena doubled with one out in the sixth, and one out later, scored on Schierholtz's single. Schierholtz reached second on the throw and tallied on Soriano's broken-bat single to go ahead, 3-2.

That set up the late innings. Schierholtz's bunt single in the 11th was a key.

"That was all Nate," Sveum said. "It was nice, because I didn't know he had that in his tool box. Perez is pretty nasty against left-handed hitters. That's a good way to get things started, because the odds are not in your favor to get a hit."

Of the Cubs' 45 losses this season, they've had the lead in 24 of those games.

"All these tough losses -- having the lead going into the eighth inning so many times this year, and having it blow up in our face, for the players on the field who have battled to that point every day, a lot of teams could've just kicked back and said, 'Here we go again' and give in," Sveum said. "Schierholtz had a nice little bunt, and obviously Soriano [hit the] homer, but it wasn't just, 'Give up and go to dinner.'"

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