Most of the Cubs weren't born when Willie Smith hit his game-winning home run on Opening Day of the 1969 season, and neither were many of the fans in the newly renovated bleachers on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
But just as Smith's two-run shot began one of the craziest rides in Cubs history, so too might Derrek Lee's eighth-inning blast that gave the Cubs a 3-2 victory over St. Louis.
Lee's home run off Brad Thompson capped a late-inning comeback that pushed the Cubs to 3-1, providing a frozen moment for the nicely chilled crowd of 40,182.
"We need to rack up wins," Lee said. "The last couple of years we haven't gotten off to good starts. These games are big for us. We're trying to get off to a good start and sustain from there."
Reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter threw six shutout innings, struck out nine and allowed only four hits.
But Carpenter's effort fell by the wayside when Michael Barrett cranked a pinch two-run homer off Josh Hancock in the seventh to tie the game.
The depth factor is paying dividends for the Cubs. They have two pinch-hit home runs in only four gamesby Barrett and John Mabry.
That's as many as they had last year in 215 pinch at-bats.
Barrett said he watched Mabry get loose in the clubhouse and tried to emulate him.
"I was just trying to pick up and learn from guys who have that experience off the bench," Barrett said.
"I want to be the kind of player who's ready to play and go in no matter what."
When the Cardinals scored two unearned runs in the sixth inning on two errors and a bloop single, only the most optimistic could contemplate a comeback against Carpenter with a strong wind blowing in the hitters' faces.
"I'm sure that probably [Friday] and today, guys like Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers would be proud to play," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "You have to put the elements out of your minds as best you can."
Carlos Zambrano did that for five innings and was breezing through the Cardinals' lineup with two outs in the sixth when he walked Jim Edmonds on five pitches.
Zambrano appeared to have Edmonds picked off first on a steal attempt, but Lee muffed the throw and Edmonds raced to third.
"I don't know how he missed that ball," Zambrano said with a laugh.
Lee, a two-time Gold Glover, took the rap for his second error of the season.
"It was such a great game, and I felt horrible about missing a ball that [Zambrano] threw right at my chest," he said. "I just whiffed it. When a pitcher is pitching that well, you don't want to make a mistake."
Scott Rolen followed with a grounder up the middle, but shortstop Ronny Cedeno's off-balance throw pulled Lee off the bag as Edmonds scored.
Zambrano promptly walked Skip Schumaker before Yadier Molina dumped a single into short right field. Jacque Jones' throw home drifted up the line and Rolen scored for a 2-0 lead.
But as soon as Cardinals manager Tony La Russa pulled Carpenter, the Cubs sprang to life. Matt Murton greeted Hancock with a leadoff single before Barrett's one-out shot on a 3-1 pitch cut through the wind and landed in the first row of the left-field bleachers.
After Lee's homer in the eighth put the Cubs ahead, his diving play in the ninth robbed Aaron Miles of a leadoff hit as Ryan Dempster closed the door for his 20th consecutive save dating back to Aug. 2.
"Days like today, you know runs are going to be scarce," Lee said. "You know it's going to come down to a team making a mistake or a home run.
"We made a mistake, but Michael Barrett picked us up. This team is going to play nine innings either way."
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