Derrek!

Where would the Cubs be without Derrek Lee?

Probably somewhere around last place in the Pacific Coast League, that's all.

I was about to write this one off as another depressing one-run loss, when the one-man team, Mr. Lee, hit his second homer of the game, a two-run shot off Pirates closer Jose Mesa in the top of the ninth, and the Cubs hung on for a 4-3 win over Pittsburgh tonight.

But you know what all I could think was?

How are they gonna blow THIS one?

Those are the depths to which we have sunk, my friends.

Games like this CAN be big turnaround points, IF teams take advantage of the huge psychological boost things like this can give you. Not only did Ryan Dempster NOT blow the save (he had quite an easy 1-2-3 inning, for his first save since his anointing), but this was Mesa's first blown save of the year in 14 opportunities, and further it broke a string of 23 straight saves for him going back to last year.

Once again, Mark Prior threw a really nice game -- the home run ball being his undoing after the Cubs had tied the game 1-1 on Lee's sacrifice fly in the top of the fifth. An inning later, Prior gave up two solo shots to Jason Bay and Cub tormentor Rob Mackowiak, and the Pirates had a two-run lead.

But then MISTER Lee started his magic. He hit a solo homer in the seventh to make it 3-2. And give some credit to Jerry Hairston, too -- he jumped right on Mesa's first pitch of the ninth for a ringing double into the LF corner.

Normally, we'd be jumping all over Dusty Baker and Hairston for having him go up hacking. In this case, though, it makes some sense because you know Mesa's going to come after you with a first-pitch fastball. Then Neifi! sacrificed Hairston to third, and I kept thinking -- here's yet another less-than-two-out-runner-on-third situation, where the Cubs have been, shall we say, less than successful this season so far.

I was really only hoping for Lee to hit another sac fly -- instead, he hit a homer to the deepest part of the park, almost in dead center field. His 12 homers and 37 RBI now lead the National League.

I heard a fair amount of this game on the radio as my dad arrived in town tonight and I was picking him up at O'Hare. Other than the normal Pat and Ron stuff, I did learn that Greg Maddux will definitely start Friday's game, and as of this moment, Z is expected to start on Saturday (unless there's something untoward that happens in the side session he'll throw in the bullpen tomorrow).

Then Prior comes back on Sunday, and Glendon Rusch, who starts tomorrow's day game in Pittsburgh, will throw the opener of the Houston series on Monday.

And after that, a week from today, May 24, the Cubs will have to figure out who they're going to start against the Astros. That'll be the next time we need a "fifth" starter. Guesses or suggestions cheerfully welcomed.

It's a good evening tonight -- the Cubs have temporarily righted the ship, Enrique Wilson helped the ballclub by staying firmly anchored to the bench, and the Cardinals have just lost 7-5 to the Phillies, so the Cubs picked up a game in the NL Central standings.

This by no means solves all our problems, and I know that. But let us enjoy the evening, anyway, and keep the faith.

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