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MIL@CHC: LaHair crushes a solo dinger to right

CHICAGO -- The Cubs came up short once again.

Darwin Barney and Bryan LaHair each homered and the Cubs threatened in the ninth, but it wasn't enough as Aramis Ramirez drove in two runs to back Shaun Marcum and help the Brewers post a 7-5 victory Monday night.

"We're going to fight," Chicago starter Chris Volstad said. "I think players are showing that. We're not a team that ever is going to give up. We were there for all those games and one or two things go differently and we're 3-1. We just have to keep grinding."

The Cubs trailed 7-3 going into the ninth and scored twice, helped in part by an error at third base by Ramirez. Brewers closer John Axford then struck out David DeJesus for the second out, before walking Darwin Barney to load the bases.

"[Axford] was struggling with his command a little bit," Barney said. "He's the kind of guy who closes and typically warms up for an inning and knows it's coming. I'm assuming he wasn't expecting to throw. ... I was trying to be aggressive in the zone on fastballs and hopefully something good will happen."

But Axford got Starlin Castro looking at strike three to end the game. The Cubs' three losses have been decided by three runs or less.

"I think Castro just got caught looking breaking ball on the last pitch and [Axford] got a fastball by him," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "It was nice to at least have a chance there."

Marcum (1-0) struck out six and helped himself with a well-executed suicide squeeze in the fourth. It was one of two run-scoring bunt plays by the Brewers, who have apparently altered their approach with the departure of Prince Fielder.

"That doesn't surprise you," Sveum said of the two bunts. "I was there, I know they do that. Their pitchers really handle the bats -- every one of their pitchers can handle the bats well, especially in that situation. ... It was just add on runs and shows the luxury of having pitchers who can handle the bat like that, you have those options."

Sveum does know the Brewers, having spent the last six seasons on their coaching staff, including the last three as the hitting coach.

"Not having Prince in there to hit 40 homers and drive in 120, it's definitely a different offense," Marcum said. "It might take a little bit of time to figure out our identity, but I think Aramis is going to have a big year hitting behind [Ryan Braun], and I think Corey [Hart] is going to have a big year as well. We're going to find a way to score runs."

The Cubs did keep pace through the first five innings. LaHair, who hit 38 homers last season for Triple-A Iowa -- tops in the Pacific Coast League -- didn't connect in Spring Training. The Cubs still expect the first baseman to be their prime power source, and he showed why in the second when he launched a 3-2 pitch from Marcum over the right field bleachers and onto Sheffield Avenue.

"I definitely got all of that ball," LaHair said. "The last couple days the wind has been bad and holding balls up. I hit it in the right spot."

"It'd be nice to see that every three days," Sveum said of LaHair's blast.

Said Marcum: "I got 3-2 on LaHair and I said, 'Here, just hit it.' And he did."

What the Cubs didn't expect was Barney driving balls out. The Brewers took a 1-0 lead in the first on Ramirez's sacrifice fly. Barney then tied the score with one out in the Chicago first with his home run.

"In Spring Training, he drove the ball probably as well as anybody in camp, so it's nice to get that goose egg off the stat line anyway," Sveum said.

Who would've picked the second baseman as the first Cubs player to homer this season?

"Probably not," Barney said of the odds. "I might have put my salary on that."

Rickie Weeks tied the score at 2-2 with a leadoff homer in the third. In the fourth, Alex Gonzalez doubled, then scored on Marcum's perfect suicide squeeze. Milwaukee would add another run in the eighth on a sacrifice.

Chris Volstad failed to extend the streak of quality starts by Cubs starters and was lifted after giving up three runs on five hits over five innings.

"That first inning kind of got me and I wasn't in the zone enough," Volstad said. "I thought I got better as the game went along. If I could've kept the pitch count down a little bit [in the first inning], I could've stayed in the game.

"I definitely know I'm better than that." Comments