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Pena can't dislodge ball as Cubs lose 3-2 to Yanks

Carlos Pena was impressed when he barreled into Russell Martin in the sixth inning, and the New York Yankees catcher held onto the ball.

The first baseman let him know what he thought when Martin singled in the eighth inning.

"He said, 'That was a great job, you hit me good.' I said 'Well, you held on,'" Pena said after the game. "Among colleagues, at the end of the day, we're all friends. But we're competing in the heat of battle. It was the right thing to do. I was impressed."

For good reason.

Martin grabbed Brett Gardner's perfect one-hop throw, absorbed a big hit from Pena and held on for an inning-ending double play, sending the Chicago Cubs to a 4-3 loss on Saturday.

"We had to try to get that run," Pena said. "I thought that was the right thing to do and (Martin) was blocking the plate, so there was only one way to get to home plate and that was through him. He took the hit like a champ and held onto the ball, so that was a great play by him. Hats off."

The Gardner-to-Martin connection preserved a 3-2 lead and capped a shoddy inning in the field for New York, which committed two errors that allowed Chicago to load the bases with one out.

"It was big to be able to get out of that inning," Gardner said.

Curtis Granderson, who was born in nearby Blue Island, had a tiebreaking sacrifice fly and two hits as the Yankees won for the seventh time in nine games, bouncing back from a 3-1 loss in the opener of their first series at Wrigley Field in eight years.

Granderson's fly ball to deep right gave New York a 3-2 lead in the sixth, but the Yankees almost blew it with lackluster defense behind A.J. Burnett (7-5), who struck out eight in 5 1-3 innings.

Errors on shortstop Eduardo Nunez and second baseman Robinson Cano loaded the bases for Geovany Soto, who hit a sinking liner to left off Cory Wade. Gardner tracked it down and let loose with a strong throw that got to the plate a few strides ahead of Pena, allowing Martin to set up for the collision.

"The first thing is you catch it clean, and when you catch it clean, then you want to just put yourself in position to kind of see where it's coming from," Martin said.

"Really, you just try to use your instincts. You go into survivor mode right there."

Cubs manager Mike Quade was fine with Pena coming home.

"(Gardner) was in a position to make the best throw he could make, given his momentum," Quade said. "And he did. But yeah, you make him execute. I have no problem with that at all."

Hector Noesi and David Robertson each worked a perfect inning for New York before Nunez atoned for his error with an RBI double in the ninth. Mariano Rivera allowed two hits, including Reed Johnson's leadoff homer, but still managed to close it out for his 17th save in 20 opportunities.

Pena hit a two-run homer and Starlin Castro added two more hits for the Cubs, who had won four of five. Castro has at least two hits in five of his last six games and is batting .415 (17 for 41) in his last 10 games overall.

"We're playing better baseball lately," Quade said. "We played good again today. They gave us an opportunity in (the sixth inning), there were a few mistakes, defensively. We just couldn't cash in with a big number."

A crowd of 42,236 filled Wrigley Field for the middle game of this rare weekend series between two of baseball's most popular teams, setting a season high for the second straight day. But this one had a much stronger Yankees presence than Friday's opener.

Alex Rodriguez was welcomed with a "roll call" greeting from a group of New York fans sitting in the bleachers. There were several "Let's go Yankees!" chants, and Rivera and Jorge Posada each received a loud ovation when they entered the game.

Cubs starter Ryan Dempster (5-6) was shaky, setting season highs with six walks and 119 pitches. The right-hander allowed three runs and eight hits in 5 1-3 innings.

"I think I made it harder on myself than I had to," Dempster said. "We had a chance to win the game at the end there. As rough as it was, I made some pitches when I needed to make them and was able to get out of some jams."

New York pushed across two runs in the third. With one out and runners on the corners, Cano hit a smash down the right-field line to get the Yankees on the board. Rodriguez moved to third on Cano's RBI double and scored his 1,800th run on Nick Swisher's sacrifice fly, snapping a tie with Ted Williams for 16th on the career list.

Pena got the runs back for Chicago in the fourth, hitting a tying drive to right with one out. Pena, who spent four seasons with Tampa Bay before signing with the Cubs over the winter, was just 5 for 36 with 14 strikeouts against Burnett before connecting for his 11th homer of the season.

Burnett allowed four hits and walked three in his first win since June 1 at Oakland. He also had a sacrifice that landed in foul territory before spinning across the first-base line and back into the field to help set up Granderson's tiebreaking fly ball.

"Well, I work on putting English on it," Burnett said with a grin. "I've never seen anything like it."

Notes: Dempster is 3-2 with a 2.35 ERA in his last six home starts. ... Cubs LF Alfonso Soriano went 2 for 4 and is batting .324 (11 for 34) with two homers and eight RBIs in his last 11 games. ... Actors Vince Vaughn and Joel McHale each threw out a ceremonial first pitch. Vaughn, a big Cubs fan, also led the singing of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch. ... Cano's one-out double into left-center in the eighth inning scattered a flock of seagulls that covered part of the outfield.

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Jay Cohen can be reached at http://twitter.com/jcohenap