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CHC@SD: Aramis blasts a homer to center for No. 26

SAN DIEGO -- Matt Garza can finish his first season with the Cubs with a smile on his face.

Alfonso Soriano belted a three-run homer with one out in the eighth, and Aramis Ramirez added a solo shot, to power the Cubs to a 6-2 victory on Tuesday over the Padres and help Garza finish the season at .500.

"It wasn't the seventh game of the World Series," Cubs manager Mike Quade said, "but I sure was glad to get Garza back to .500. The guys did a [heck] of a job putting together a great eighth inning."

Trailing 2-1 in the eighth against Chad Qualls (6-8), Ramirez walked and was lifted for pinch-runner Tony Campana, who stole second and reached third one out later. Bryan LaHair then walked to set up Soriano, who launched an 0-1 pitch to center.

Garza (10-10), who has been the most consistent of the Cubs' starters, picked up the win, scattering five hits over seven innings, and finished shy of the 200-innings mark with 198 for the year. He closed with a 3.32 ERA, which should rank among the top 15 in the National League.

"He deserved to get a win in his last start," Soriano said of Garza. "He's been so good for us all year."

The Cubs just haven't given Garza much run support this season. They came through on Tuesday, and Garza closed the year 6-2 with a 2.27 ERA in his last 11 starts.

"He's good, he's a good pitcher," Quade said of Garza, who was acquired from the Rays for five prospects. "For as tough a season as it's been at times, where would we have been without him? I believe he anchors this staff as we move on, and I believe he's capable of much better. I don't think he's a .500 pitcher. I don't think you'll see that down the road."

Garza finished with a career-high 197 strikeouts, topping his old mark of 189 set in 2009 with the Rays. He also had 20 quality starts. And the right-hander was eager to get to work for next year.

"I'm just going to try to get better," Garza said. "The sky's the limit. I'm just going to try to build until I get there."

Soriano took the same approach. No longer a leadoff man, he's altered his game and now has 88 RBIs -- the most since 2006, when he drove in 95 runs. That's good, but not good enough for Soriano.

"It's not a good year for me because we didn't make the playoffs," Soriano said. "I'm here to be in the playoffs. The numbers, they'll be there every year. If I'm healthy, they'll be there. It's more important to be in the playoffs, be a contender. This year, it's not a good year for the team."

The Cubs have one game remaining, and Starlin Castro hasn't slowed down. He singled to start the game, and now has reached safely in 39 games in a row, the longest stretch since Jerome Walton's 43-game streak in 1989. Castro also has a 10-game hitting streak, his fifth double-digit streak this season. He has 205 hits, tops in the National League.

The Padres took a 2-1 lead in the second on Kyle Blanks' two-run double. Ramirez, sidelined for one week with a strained right quad, returned to the lineup with a head cold and made his presence felt in the fourth, when he led off with his home run to straightaway center against starter Anthony Bass, who was making his third start.

"They have some marquee players over there," Padres manager Bud Black said of the Cubs. "It was good for Anthony to face those guys."

Both Ramirez and Soriano have 26 homers apiece. Was this Ramirez's last blast for the Cubs? He has said he'll test the free-agent market when the season ends, which happens after game No. 162 on Wednesday.

"To me, it all comes to a complete stop after [Wednesday]," Quade said. "When it's over, you take a deep breath and go from there.

"When you finally get home and get away from it for a day or two, that's when it comes crashing down more than anything to me."

Could Wednesday also be Soriano's last day?

"If they want to trade me, they'll call," said Soriano, who is owed $54 million over the next three years, and has a full no-trade clause in his contract. "I hope if they want to trade me, they trade me to a good team, a contender. If not, I want to be here, I love it here. I don't think that [Wednesday is] my last game [with the Cubs]. I just want to enjoy my time. I'm 35, maybe three more years and I'm done. I just want to enjoy my time."

Quade's first full season at the helm hasn't been very enjoyable. Losing two starters after the first five days didn't help. Having to deal with Carlos Zambrano's unexpected "retirement" in August added to the club's pitching woes. Injuries to key players in May and June left Quade scrambling to fill the lineup card.

The Cubs need a new general manager and a new third baseman if Ramirez ends up departing. Does Quade think past the season finale?

"I try not to," Quade said. "Everybody's different. You stay focused ... it's just like [Ramirez] and the sniffles. You've got all winter to take a deep breath and regroup. That's the way I do it. I don't draw a circle on the calendar and [think] 'two days to go,' 'one day to go.'"

There's now one day to go.

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