NEW YORK -- Bet you didn't realize exactly how much the Cubs missed Derrek Lee the last two days while he was away for the birth of his second child, and first son, named Dylan.
The Cubs welcomed him back and D-Lee sent two homers into the upper reaches of Citi Field -- two of the longer homers hit there, according to my "Cubs By The Numbers" co-author Matt Silverman, who I met for the first time today (we did the entire book by email and phone calls. And yes, that link above is a shameless hint to you to get your copy of the book if you haven't already). Matt provided the ticket, for which I thank him, and D-Lee provided the offense, going 3-for-4 with the pair of dingers and 3 RBI. That leaves Lee one homer short of his fourth 30-HR season (second with the Cubs) and with seven more RBI, he'll have his second 100-RBI year.
Lee's fine offensive year -- in a season when many Cubs fans (not me, though) were clamoring for him to be replaced by Micah Hoffpauir -- may go for naught; unless the Cubs start a long winning streak with this victory and the four teams in front of them start losing, the Cubs will have to settle for wins like this one, 5-3 over the Mets, as moral victories as they look forward to retooling for 2010. Lee was hitting .198 on May 16; since then in 92 games he's hitting .327/.405/.636 with 26 HR and 77 RBI. Sound like a guy in decline? Hardly. If only the rest of the offense had contributed in the same way all year.
Meanwhile, Rich Harden was striking out batters left and right through the first five innings -- that is, when he wasn't allowing a HR to Cory Sullivan, who hadn't homered all season until last night. Sullivan has to be happy to see Cubs pitchers, even if they don't return the favor. Harden had to be lifted after five innings after throwing 102 pitches; the bullpen did a decent job, except for Aaron Heilman, who was back to his old ways of not hitting his spots. He didn't walk anyone, but was charged with the Mets' third run. He was roundly booed when introduced and then again when he was taken out for John Grabow -- I thought, "Why are Mets fans booing him? He just gave them a run, they should be cheering and wanting him to stay in the game!"
Carlos Marmol was summoned with the tying runs on base in the eighth inning. He immediately walked pinch-hitter Jeremy Reed, provoking the "uh-oh" that's been the case with Marmol much of the year. But he got Angel Pagan to fly to center and dispatched the Mets quickly in the ninth, including a pair of K's, for his ninth save. If he can keep this up, that's hope for him to be a solid closer next season.
I walked all the way around the lower level of Citi Field today; parts of it, particularly a large food court in center field, reminded me of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. In fact, the food has been the best part of the ballpark; today's tickets were part of the "Ebbets Club", a semi-fancy enclosed area where you don't have to dress up (as you do for the other private clubs at Citi Field); they have sandwiches and other well-made food there that's a bit above the usual ballpark fare. All of the food, including the chicken quesadilla from last night, has been outstanding. The rest of the park seems kind of generic; Mets fans, as I noted yesterday, were very upset that the huge rotunda was turned into a Brooklyn Dodger/Jackie Robinson memorial with no Mets mentions at all. I do understand the rationale behind honoring Robinson -- but after all, it's a Mets ballpark, and the Dodgers are more than 50 years gone from New York.
One thing that the Mets don't do that almost every other team -- including the Cubs -- do is play some sort of "guess the attendance" game, or, for that matter, even announce the paid crowd. Maybe that's because there are so many no-shows; of the 38,759 that the boxscore says paid today, maybe 20,000-22,000 were in the house. At the prices the Mets are charging (fortunately, I didn't have to pay today), they'll have to do some serious changing in the offseason, or lower ticket prices, or they're going to have a huge attendance decline next year.
Credit to Mets fans, who were universally friendly -- maybe because their team is so far out of the race that they can afford to be -- and Mets employees and New York people in general, whether it be on the street or in the subway. I've never had a bad time here, and a win tomorrow to take this series will make it an even better trip. Randy Wells will take the mound Sunday afternoon -- keep up the good work, and who knows? Maybe a Cubs miracle is still possible.