CHICAGO -- For one brief moment, a smile crossed Aramis Ramirez's face when he learned the Chicago Cubs took the lead in the National League Central. Then, it disappeared.
The Cubs know how drastically fortunes can change, so they weren't about to jump for joy over moving into first place on Sunday.
Ramirez tied a career high with four hits, including a two-run homer, in a 13-6 victory over Pittsburgh that gave Chicago its second three-game sweep of the Pirates this season.
Then, he had a question: "Did St. Louis win today?"
No, the Cardinals lost to San Francisco, so the Cubs took a half-game lead in the Central. Ramirez let out a smile and then it was gone.
"We still got, what, 150 games to go?" he said.
Actually, they have 144. But if Ramirez wants to prolong this season, well, so do the rest of his teammates.
Chicago got big days from Ramirez and Ryan Theriot and won for the 11th time in 14 games. Theriot had four hits, scored three runs and drove in two. With Saturday's 13-1 drubbing, this was the first time the Cubs scored 13 or more in back-to-back games since they did it against Florida and Atlanta on July 20-21, 2003.
Chicago banged out a season-high 18 hits, the most since it had 20 against Cincinnati last August 16, while sending Pittsburgh to its fifth straight loss. The win was Chicago's ninth straight against the Pirates, matching the Cubs' longest win streak against them since Sept. 5, 1938 to May 13, 1939.
"It feels great to be in first place," starter Ryan Dempster said. "Now, the tough part is trying to stay there."
Dempster (3-0) wasn't feeling great after Pittsburgh scored three runs in the fifth to cut it to 5-3, but Chicago responded with five in the bottom half against reliever Franquelis Osoria. The Pirates committed two errors in the inning, and Ramirez capped the outburst with his fourth homer.
The four-hit game was Ramirez's 18th and his first since Sept. 27 at Florida.
"I felt pretty good," said Ramirez, who raised his average from .234 to .275. "I can't say I'm right where I want to be because I only had (one) good day."
At 12-6, the Cubs matched their best 18-game start since 2004. One reason is their patience at the plate. The Cubs walked seven times on Sunday after drawing 10 the previous day.
"We figure we should score runs," Lee said. "We feel like this is what we're capable of."
Theriot is playing a big part, with a .338 average.
He singled in a run in the first to extend his hitting streak to seven and was 4-for-5. He doubled and scored in the third, and added an RBI double and scored again in the fourth to help Chicago build a 5-0 lead.
That was enough for Dempster, who was lifted for a pinch hitter in the fifth. He allowed five hits, walked two, struck out three and hit a batter in his shortest outing of the year.
It was a rough outing for Pittsburgh's Zach Duke (0-1), who was 4-2 with a 2.01 ERA in nine previous starts against Chicago. This time, he allowed five runs and eight hits in four innings and his ERA climbed from 2.89 to 4.37. He walked two and hit two batters. Only 36 of his 69 pitches were strikes.
"You can't overanalyze it too much," he said. "You can get into a big downward spiral if you let yourself do that. I'm going to take this one for what it is and bounce back next time."
The Cubs scratched Kosuke Fukudome from their lineup because of a small cyst above his right eye -- a condition that manager Lou Piniella said is not serious while calling it "only a one-day thing."
Ryan Doumit had two solo homers for Pittsburgh, not that he took consolation from that.
"There was not one thing about it that helped us win," he said.
After picking on the Pirates, the Cubs face a stiffer test the next two days when the New York Mets visit.
"We're hitting pretty good," Ramirez said. "Last year in April, we pitched good but we didn't hit good."
Pittsburgh's Nate McLouth extended his hitting streak to 18 with a single in the first -- the longest by a Pirate since Jason Kendall hit in 20 straight in 2004. It's also the club's longest to start the season since Al Oliver's 18-game streak in 1972. ... Injured Cubs reliever Chad Fox (right elbow) is scheduled to head to Class A Daytona for a rehab stint on Tuesday, and Scott Eyre (left elbow) might join him there in the next few days.