WASHINGTON -- While it's easy to understand why the Washington Nationals let Alfonso Soriano go, there are times when the sight of him in a Chicago Cubs uniform aches a little more than usual for fans in the nation's capital.
Monday night was one of times. Soriano returned to the stadium that helped earn him a nine-digit contract and looked right at home again, getting two hits, a run, an RBI and a stolen base in the Cubs' 7-2 victory over the Nationals.
"It's a little weird," said Soriano, who had 46 home runs and stole 41 bases for Washington last year. "But I try to do my job and do the best I can for my team. I feel very good, so that's what matters."
Soriano is headed for the All-Star Game and was selected as the National League's player of the month for June, having led the majors with 11 home runs and the NL with 41 hits. He is batting .329 in his last 17 games.
The Nationals sure could use some of those hits and homers. They've scored three or fewer runs in nine straight games, going 2-7 during that stretch.
"Those guys are pressing a little bit instead of letting the game come to them," Washington manager Manny Acta said. "It's human nature."
Chicago manager Lou Piniella was concerned that this would be a trap series for the Cubs, who were leaving an 8-1 homestand before energized crowds at Wrigley Field to play a last-place team in a half-empty RFK Stadium. He needn't have worried: Soriano and three other players had at least two hits, and Ted Lilly (7-4) allowed only three hits over seven innings to put Chicago (41-40) above .500 for the first time since the team was 16-15 on May 9.
"We've improved. This road trip is an important one," Piniella said. "We had a real nice homestand. We're trying to build on that and we started the right way."
Before the game, Soriano visited Washington's clubhouse and spoke of his fond memories of his eventful but productive year in the nation's capital. He reluctantly converted from second base to left field, then had a blockbuster season that earned him a $136 million, eight-year contract as a free agent from the Cubs in November. The Nationals didn't try to keep him because they were slashing payroll to begin a slow, long-term rebuilding program.
"I had a great time here," he said, "so it's very exciting for me to come back."
Soriano flied to the warning track in center to open the game, but the next three batters reached base, and the Cubs went on to score in each of the first four innings. Aramis Ramirez had a two-run double in the first, Soriano drove in a run with a single in the second, and four straight singles followed by a sacrifice fly accounted for two more runs in the third.
That was the end of the night for Washington starter Jason Simontacchi (5-6), who lasted only three innings for the second time in three starts. He allowed five runs and seven hits.
"I just didn't get the ball down," Simontacchi said. "I need to execute my pitches a lot better."
Soriano opened the fourth inning with a single and took second with his 11th stolen base. He scored on Mark DeRosa's two-run single.
Lilly won his third consecutive decision. He walked the first two batters he faced but had a no-hitter through 4 1/3 innings. Brian Schneider broke it up with a double off the right field wall in the fifth, and Nook Logan brought Schneider home with a double down the left field line.
Austin Kearns drove in a run with a single in the ninth for the Nationals, his first RBI in 13 games.
Asked how the Nationals can snap out of their offensive funk, Dmitri Young said: "With a lucky game. We just need to get hits."
Or another player like Soriano.
- The Cubs are above .500 at the midpoint of their season for the first time since 2004 (46-35). They are also an NL-best 19-9 since June 3.
- In addition to the possible letdown in opening a road trip against a losing team, Piniella is also wary about the Cubs easing up in anticipation of the All-Star break vacation. "Let's just take three days off instead four or five," he said. "We need to play good on this road trip is all I'm trying to say. We can't look forward to the break."
- Simontacchi has had a decision in every start this season. Boston's Tim Wakefield (8-8) is the only other pitcher to make at least 10 starts and get a decision in every one.
- Washington's Robert Fick was ejected after being called out on strikes as a pinch hitter in the eighth.