A month after a couple of violent sneezes landed Sammy Sosa on the disabled list, the Chicago Cubs' slugger is finally back.
Sosa was activated Friday and in the lineup for the game against the Oakland Athletics. It's his first game since May 15, and he got a loud ovation when his name was announced before the game.
"It's a good feeling to be back," he said. "The team played very well, I like that. It's always good to be back in the field."
To make room for Sosa, the Cubs optioned outfielder Jason Dubois to Triple-A Iowa. Dubois hit .167 with an RBI in 11 games.
Sosa sprained a ligament in his back when he sneezed hard twice before Chicago played in San Diego on May 15. He had back spasms initially, and his back hurt so much for several days he had trouble walking down stairs.
Sosa took batting practice for the first time June 8, then went to Double-A West Tenn last weekend for a rehab assignment, only the second of his career. Sosa played three games for the Diamond Jaxx, going 2-for-7 with three strikeouts, a double and an RBI single.
He had hoped to play one game in right field, but that plan was scrapped because of wet conditions.
"I decided to go the minor leagues because I wanted to be ready from the first day," said Sosa, who went 0-for-11 with eight strikeouts when he returned from the DL last year.
"I went there to make sure everything is OK. I'm happy to be back. I'm ready to go."
Cubs manager Dusty Baker had Sosa bat fourth, one spot below his normal place in the lineup.
"I know last year when he was out, it took him a couple of days to get his stroke back," Baker said. "So I moved him down to take the pressure off."
No matter where he hits, the Cubs are thrilled to have Sosa back. Chicago went 16-14 without him, and the club's runs per game dropped from 5.1 to 4.7. Sosa was hitting .291 with 10 home runs and 24 RBIs before his injury.
Still, the Cubs just wrapped up a road trip to Anaheim and Houston with a 6-1 record, including a four-game sweep of the NL Central rival Astros. The Cubs began the day two games behind division-leading St. Louis.
The Cubs will get another boost Saturday when second baseman Mark Grudzielanek (Achilles' tendon) is activated. Chicago also hopes to get right-hander Kerry Wood (strained triceps) back in the next few weeks.
"That was an unbelievable road trip, we got six out of seven. That's nice," Sosa said. "When everybody's together, it'll be hard for us to go into a little slump again."
Athletics 2, Cubs 1
Mark Kotsay homered and drove in another run, and the Oakland Athletics spoiled Sammy Sosa's return from a month on the disabled list with a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Friday.
Sosa, who went 0-for-4 in his first game since May 16, had a chance to tie the score with two outs in the ninth. With fans standing and chanting "SAM-MEE! SAM-MEE," Sosa grounded out to short to end the game.
"I'm just happy to be back," Sosa said. "I want to do the best that I can, but I didn't have any luck today. They pitched me great. I'll see you tomorrow."
Kotsay finished 2-for-4, improving to .466 with four homers and 19 RBIs in his last 19 games.
Mark Redman (5-3) scattered four hits and an unearned run over eight innings, walking one and striking out six. Chad Bradford pitched the ninth for his first save in two chances.
"It's tough to lose another one-run game, but what can I say?" manager Dusty Baker said. "Matty [Clement] threw a great game. If it hadn't been for Kotsay, they wouldn't have gotten anything."