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CHC@ARI: Soriano homers to put the Cubs on the board

PHOENIX -- Alfonso Soriano said on Friday night that he is feeling better physically than he has in several years, and the Cubs' 35-year-old left fielder is beginning to prove it.

Soriano hit a pair of homers off D-backs starter Armando Galarraga, helping Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs to a 4-2 victory at Chase Field. Soriano now has nine long balls on the season -- the most ever hit by a Cub during the month of April. And Soriano has one day left to add to that record as the two teams play again on Saturday.

"I'm coming every day to the ballpark happy," Soriano said. "I just want to be in the lineup. I feel better now than I have in a long time. Last year, my knee was still bothering me and I had a hard time [planting] my leg. Now, up at the plate, I'm confident in what I'm doing."

Soriano led off both the fifth and seventh innings with homers, as the Cubs erased an early 2-0 deficit and ended a four-game losing streak.

Soriano, who was rested in Thursday night's 11-2 loss to the D-backs, homered into the left-field bleachers to open the fifth. Geovany Soto followed immediately with a tying blast of his own, his second of the year. It was the first time this season that the Cubs hit back-to-back homers.

To lead off the seventh, the right-handed-swinging Soriano went the other way and homered to right-center field. It was the 27th multihomer game of his career, and first since this past Sept. 28 against the Padres in San Diego.

Galarraga (3-2) has now allowed 11 homers this season in 28 innings.

"Sometimes you have to give the batter credit," Galarraga said. "On the second homer, it was a real good pitch. It was down -- really down. I thought, 'Wow, he got me two times.' It was probably the best pitch of the night, I'm not kidding you."

Zambrano walked Chris Young to open the bottom of the first, and one out later craned his neck as Justin Upton hit his fifth homer of the season 455 feet into the second deck in left field. From there on, Zambrano didn't allow another run. He was touched for four hits and walked three in his six innings of work. Kerry Wood, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol each threw a scoreless inning after that to wrap it up. Marmol recorded his sixth save.

The victory was Zambrano's ninth in a row on the road, tying a similar streak recorded by Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz last year. Zambrano is now 3-1 on the season with a 4.91 ERA, and is 11-1 in his last 17 outings dating back to last season.

"I settled down after that 'cheap' home run by Upton," Zambrano deadpanned. "I thought he had more pop than that. But seriously, after that I just said, 'that's all they're going to get and just pitch my game. That's enough!'"

Soriano blew out his left knee near the end of the 2009 season and underwent arthroscopic surgery. Last season he batted .258 with 24 homers, 79 RBIs and 40 doubles, but it wasn't good enough. Soriano was hit with a wave of criticism, and that's basically the way it has been since he signed an eight-year, $136 million contract with the Cubs as a free agent before the start of the 2007 season. He's been considered undervalued and overpaid.

Last year, he didn't hit his ninth home run until May 23, so something good is happening.

"He's seeing the ball and hitting it the other way," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "He's got three home runs already to right field. Over the last year and a half, I don't remember seeing him hit three in that direction. A lot of his contact is that way. He's staying on the ball better. As a younger player, before anybody in Chicago had him on the radar, he hit a lot of balls to right-center. It's good to see him get that back."

So far it's been a renaissance for both Soriano and Zambrano, who was placed on the restricted list last season and given behavioral help after a series of on-field outbursts led to his separation from the team. He was reinstated on July 31 and placed back in the rotation for good on Aug. 9. He's lost only once since then.

The 29-year-old Zambrano said on Friday night that he's taken his new attitude to the mound.

"I'm able to command my pitches," he said. "Even if I walk somebody, I just get the next guy. For me the key is to throw a strike. I just believe in the stuff that I have and that's it."

Believing is a big part of it, and Zambrano and Soriano have had the kind of month that proves it.

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