Cubs manager Dusty Baker was contemplating sitting Derrek Lee, who came into Tuesday night's game at PNC Park in a mini-slump.
But after going 1-for-13 in Washington, Lee cranked two home runs and drove in all the Cubs' runs in a 4-3 victory over Pittsburgh, including a game-winning, two-run, ninth-inning blast off closer Jose Mesa.
"I'm glad he didn't sit me," Lee said. "I felt fine."
So did the Cubs after Lee rescued them from yet another agonizing one-run loss. Ryan Dempster posted his first save with a perfect ninth as the Cubs snapped a two-game losing streak.
Mark Prior watched another strong outing almost go to waste. He wasn't disheartened afterward, however, knowing that Lee's heroics saved the day.
"Right now, he's playing probably better than anybody in the league," Prior said. "He's basically keeping us in the hunt by himself. It was his game, and he should get the 'W' today."
Instead, the victory went to left-handed Will Ohman (2-0), who threw only two pitches in the eighth, inducing a double-play grounder.
With the game tied 1-1 in the sixth, Prior served up home runs to Jason Bay and Rob Mackowiak that gave Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead.
Lee, however, homered off Josh Fogg in the seventh and, after Jerry Hairston doubled off Mesa leading off the ninth and was bunted to third, Lee smashed a two-run shot to left-center field to put the Cubs on top.
Mesa suffered his first blown save in 24 opportunities, dating back to Aug. 19, 2004, at St. Louis.
"It's almost like a free at-bat because you have got a runner on third," Lee said. "I just wanted to get a ball in the air. You know he's going to come after you right there."
It was Lee's 12th home run, and he added to his league lead in RBIs with 37.
"I've never been on a roll like this," Lee admitted. "It's a little different. You just get better with yourself. You learn yourself, learn your league. I'm just starting to understand more about hitting every year."
Prior allowed three runs on seven hits over seven innings, failing to notch a victory for the fourth straight start, dating back to April 25 against Cincinnati. Although he certainly pitched well enough to win, Prior was done in by a glaring lack of support.
The Cubs stranded five runners in scoring position against Fogg over the first five innings, managing only one run on a Lee sacrifice fly in the fifth, despite nine hits over that span. Lack of clutch hitting has been the Cubs Achilles' heel all spring, with Lee continuing to provide the only big hits in the lineup.
"That's a killer," Baker said. "No. 1, you have to want to be in that situation.
"No. 2 you have to have your game plan before you go up there, depending on what you need. Plus, these things go in streaks. These things go in bunches. The No. 1 thing that will turn it around is pitch selection."
Baker juggled his lineup again, moving Corey Patterson down to the sixth spot and reinserting Jerry Hairston at leadoff.
"Corey hasn't been getting on base as much as he would like or we would like," Baker said.
Patterson, who came in with a .297 on-base percentage, went 1-for-4 and ended the fifth with the bases loaded by taking a called third strike.
The Cubs entered Tuesday night's game ranked 14th out of 16 National League teams in fielding, 14th in games saved, 12th in runs scored and eighth in earned-run average.
The team still haven't won more than three straight, although Tuesday's victory was certainly one of its biggest to date.
"That was a tremendous lift for us," Baker said. "Another one-run loss for us would've been devastating."
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