Winning road trip almost frustrating

Chicago CubsHenry BlancoDerrek LeeMoises AlouSpring Training

The Cubs can't help but think "what if" when they look back on all the missed opportunities this season.

Henry Blanco's two-run homer and Mark Prior's pitching Saturday led the Cubs to a 5-2 victory over San Francisco, leaving them 7-2 as they head into the final game of this 10-game trip.

It may be too late, but the Cubs finally are showing what they can do when everything is clicking.

"That's the frustrating part," said Derrek Lee, who set a career high with his 99th RBI. "We know what type of talent we have. We play like this for a while, and then we fall back. But that's behind us and we have to keep playing like this through the end of the season."

The Cubs improved to 70-72 and Prior earned his 11th victory after allowing two first-inning runs during a 37-pitch inning before settling down and lasting until the seventh. Prior wound up throwing 122 pitches, the third time in his last six starts he has exceeded 120 pitches in fewer than seven innings of work.

"He's just a little too fine sometimes," manager Dusty Baker said. "If he gets the calls and is being fine, it's good, but if you don't get the calls, then you're behind a lot. There were a number of 3-2 counts. We just have to work on pitch efficiency."

Baker said Prior's slight leg strain did not affect him.

"This is some of the best stuff he has had in a while," he said. "It's just that he was a little bit wild in the zone."

Prior conceded afterward he has to change his "mind-set" and "be smarter" in his approach to hitters. After giving up a rare opposite-field single to Moises Alou leading off the third, he did not allow another hit.

"I need to do a better job and work on going into next year not trying to nibble on the corners and on the black all day long," Prior said. "Other teams know it, and sometimes they go in and they're a little bit more patient.

"[Pitch counts] start racking up in a hurry. I just have to go in and be aggressive in the zone with all my pitches. I did that later in the game, but it's something I definitely need to work on in spring training because I shouldn't be throwing this many pitches."

Jeromy Burnitz's two-run single off Brad Hennessey in the fifth tied the game 2-2 and Blanco's two-run shot off the left-field foul pole gave the Cubs the lead for keeps in the sixth.

Baker had a long pregame discussion with Corey Patterson after inserting him back in the leadoff spot for the first time since July 2.

"I was just trying to do something and get him in the action right away," Baker said. "That was the thinking. It didn't work. I told him I wanted him to make a difference in the game, to bunt, and do all the things you're capable of doing."

Patterson went 0-for-5 and saw only 12 pitches, leaving him with a .167 average since returning from his demotion to Triple-A Iowa. He started out with an unsuccessful bunt attempt, then grounded out three times to the right side and struck out on three pitches.

"I was trying to impart on him, 'Hey man, we're not quitting on you,'" Baker said.

Baker was hesitant to say whether he would try Patterson in the leadoff spot again.

"I don't know, man," he said. "It didn't work today, so … "

psullivan@tribune.com

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