Let's put to rest the idea -- if anyone still has it -- that Derrek Lee is declining. Since May 1, when he was hitting .189, he has 13 HR and 38 RBI in 46 games and is hitting .326/.408/.594 in that time frame.
D-Lee's three-run homer and grand slam -- both hit in the first four innings -- led the Cubs to a convincing 9-5 win over the Brewers, making the first "statement" that they're not going away in this tight division race. Only 2.5 games now separate the top four teams in the NL Central; the Cardinals' win over the Giants last night put them in a first-place tie with Milwaukee. The Cubs also edged back to one game behind the Brewers in the loss column, and Jake Fox and Geovany Soto also homered. Since May 12, Soto is hitting .277/.368/.515 with 8 HR and 22 RBI in 35 games started -- these numbers are very close to those he put up last year. If he can keep up this pace, he'll be just fine.
With his career-high seven RBI in the first four innings, D-Lee had a shot at the team record for RBI in a game -- nine, set by Heinie Zimmerman on June 11, 1911, and tied by Sammy Sosa on August 10, 2002, against the Rockies in Denver. Lee got only one more shot after the grand slam, and he hit a ball hard, but right to Mike Cameron. He was on deck in the last of the eighth when Ryan Theriot flew to right to end that inning.
The grand slam was Lee's second of the season and tenth of his career; that puts him in an 11th-place tie on the active player grand slam list, tied with Torii Hunter. The grand slam was caught on Waveland Avenue on the fly by Ballhawk Dave (thanks to our own ballhawk, Ken, for the tweeted info last night on this snag.)
Enough of the records. Ryan Dempster threw into the seventh inning and came a Mike Fontenot bobble away from finishing that inning; two batters later he gave up a single to Ryan Braun and Lou pulled him after 109 pitches (68 strikes) to a warm ovation. Dempster seemingly effortlessly struck out nine and only once, in the fifth inning, did his command desert him briefly. He walked Brewers reliever Chris Smith -- who had exactly one career AB before last night, what is it about these guys that makes pitchers suddenly unable to throw strikes? -- and Craig Counsell before ending the inning. Despite allowing a pair of homers, Dempster was never in trouble because of Lee's big day. Carlos Marmol was a bit shaky in the ninth inning, issuing a two-out walk to Prince Fielder (although, to be fair, it appeared Marmol wanted no part of challenging Fielder, throwing him nothing but breaking balls). He finished up by getting ex-Cub Casey McGehee (and raise your hand if you knew McGehee would be doing this well) on a called third strike, but not before Kevin Gregg had started to loosen up in the pen.
Sam Fuld continued his fine play, getting a pair of hits for the second day in a row. During his postgame remarks, Lou hedged when asked if Fuld would play again today. "We'll see," was his response. It appears Alfonso Soriano will return to the lineup today, but it's possible that Fuld will continue to play as long as he's hot (Lou often does this, riding the hot hand), perhaps spelling Kosuke Fukudome in CF for a day, and then Milton Bradley in RF for a day. Fuld is giving Lou and Jim Hendry a tough choice to make on Monday. That's the day three Cubs -- Angel Guzman, Aramis Ramirez and Reed Johnson -- will all return from the DL. Kevin Hart is the likely returnee to Iowa for Guzman, but who will go for Ramirez? Andres Blanco? He's played fine defense and is the only true backup SS. And will Fuld return to Iowa for Johnson? Stay tuned.
A final word about the booing I heard for Bradley in his first three at-bats last night, which resulted in a strikeout and two groundouts. You all know that I haven't been a big Bradley fan, but that booing is uncalled for and I did not join in. I think that sort of thing should be reserved for someone who isn't giving an honest effort. There's no doubt in my mind that Milton Bradley is absolutely, positively trying his best and giving 100% effort. He's just not succeeding right now. I truly do hope he turns it around. As long as he's wearing the blue pinstripes, we as fans, and his teammates, need him to succeed.
This morning's game preview thread will post at 11:30 am CDT.