By ANDREW SELIGMAN
AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO -- Reed Johnson and Alfonso Soriano hit back-to-back homers in the eighth, and the Chicago Cubs escaped with an 8-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday after blowing a three-run lead in the top half of the inning.
The home runs lifted the Cubs to their seventh win in eight games and capped a strange afternoon that saw Carlos Zambrano leave after five strong innings even though he apparently was not hurt. Chicago (67-45) moved 22 games above .500 for the first time since 1989, when it won 93 games, but what looked like an easy win turned dramatic in the eighth.
The winning rally started when Craig Hansen (0-1) walked Geovany Soto with two outs. Sean Burnett came in, and Johnson drove an 0-2 pitch to left. He raised his right arm as soon as the ball left his bat and came out of the dugout for a curtain call.
Soriano gave the fans more to cheer when he sent a 1-2 pitch from Burnett to the seats in left, making it 8-5. Carlos Marmol came in and pitched a perfect ninth for his sixth save in eight chances.
Chad Gaudin (3-1) got the win even though he allowed the tying two-run homer to Andy LaRoche in the eighth.
The drama started before the top of the sixth when Cubs manager Lou Piniella decided to bring in Jeff Samardzija even though the Cubs had a 5-2 lead and Zambrano had retired 12 in a row.
Zambrano, who had completed his warmups, left to a standing ovation, raising his right index finger on his way to the dugout as he usually does.
Samardzija left with one out in the eighth after allowing just one hit while striking out one and walking one in 2 1-3 scoreless innings, but Neal Cotts and Chad Gaudin could not hold the lead. Cotts gave up a double to Doug Mientkiewicz. After Nate McLouth popped out, Doumit singled to right, making it 5-3.
Piniella brought in Gaudin, and LaRoche -- who came to Pittsburgh from Los Angeles in the deal that sent Jason Bay to Boston and Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers before the deadline -- drove a 3-2 pitch out to left to tie it.
Zambrano allowed just three hits, struck out two and walked one while throwing just 82 pitches after going 4-1 last month, but Cubs spokesman Peter Chase said he was fine.
So why the early exit? The Cubs apparently are trying to preserve Zambrano, who threw 125 and 118 pitches in his previous two starts.
Even so, it was a jarring end to another solid outing by the NL All-Star.
He allowed an unearned run in the first and a leadoff homer to Brandon Moss -- who came from Boston in the Bay trade -- in the second -- before settling down. The Cubs tied it at 2 in the bottom half and got two more runs in the fourth on consecutive doubles by Jim Edmonds, Soto and Zambrano against Pittsburgh starter Ian Snell to make it 4-2.
Aramis Ramirez led off the fifth with his 19th homer to make it 5-2.
The Pirates got an unearned run in the first and a leadoff homer by Moss in the second to take a 2-0 lead, but the Cubs tied it in the bottom half.
Snell allowed four runs and seven hits in four innings.
Cubs closer Kerry Wood faced batters on Sunday but probably will not return from a blister on his right index finger until later this week. Sidelined since July 11, Wood had hoped to return from the disabled list during Chicago's series against Houston. Instead, manager Lou Piniella said he likely will not be activated until the Cubs host St. Louis next weekend. ... RHP Jon Lieber, on the DL with a strained right foot, will make a rehab appearance for Class A Peoria on Tuesday. ... Pirates 1B Adam LaRoche, out with a rib cage injury ran before Sunday's game and could begin hitting off a tee as early as Wednesday, manager John Russell said. ... IF Freddy Sanchez, who has missed the past five games with back spasms, took batting practice Sunday and could be back in the starting lineup on Monday.