New Busch, old outcome for Cubs

Chicago CubsJuan PierreJerome WilliamsMichael BarrettDerrek LeeAlbert Pujols

The Cubs were D-Lee free for the first time Friday night in their debut at the new Busch Stadium, beginning a journey into the unknown without star first baseman Derrek Lee.

"It's not a very pleasant situation," manager Dusty Baker said. "But it's here, and it's real. It's a major blow, but we still have a lot to play for."

Baker had a team meeting before Friday's game against the Cardinals to boost the morale of his troops, telling them to "be themselves." But the Cubs' first step without Lee was a bit wobbly to say the least.

Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols homered and drove in four runs, leading St. Louis to a 9-3 victory before a crowd of 41,379.

Meet the new Busch, same as the old Busch.

The Cubs are now 21-52 in St. Louis since 1996, and were out of Friday's game by the second inning when Jerome Williams imploded. Williams lasted only 11/3 innings, allowing seven runs on six hits and two walks in what he aptly described as a "horrible" performance.

"I have to come back the next day and kick myself in the butt, get a reality check, tell myself to pitch instead of moping around and putting my head down," Williams said.

The reality check for the Cubs is knowing Lee will be gone for at least two months with two fractured bones just above his right wrist, though Cubs trainer Mark O'Neal said the Cubs were relieved the injury was not more serious.

"We really are very fortunate that it's not down in the wrist and the hands and the tendons and the ligaments," O'Neal said. "For us, we were very concerned with the MRIs that he might have a cartilage tear, a ligament tear, a tendon tear.

"With it being purely a non-displaced fracture and it's going to heal on its own, I think we got the best break we could."

O'Neal said the Cubs may be able to get Lee in a rehab game 10 to 14 days after he gets out of casts, which he will wear for about six weeks.

By that unofficial timetable, and adding another week of minor-league rehab games, Lee could be back in a Cubs uniform the final week of June—if all goes well.

O'Neal said Lee was "very downbeat" when he heard the news but sounded much better Friday. The Cubs expect Lee to be with the team and supporting his teammates during his down time.

"I can't see him not being around," Baker said. "I don't know what he'd do if he wasn't around."

The Cubs' poor showing will convince some that they are, in fact, cooked without their offensive and spiritual leader.

"I know a lot of people will count us out now, don't think we'll do anything," center fielder Juan Pierre said. "But I think we still have enough guys in the clubhouse who know what to do. It was a good step winning that game [in Los Angeles], losing him and Scotty [Eyre].

"But Michael Barrett has come up with clutch hits all year, and he came through with another one. We'll get a healthy Jacque [Jones] going a little, and if I pick it up a little, we'll be fine.

"I don't think we've hit on all cylinders on offense yet anyway, and we're right in the thick of things already.

"It's tough. I don't want to downplay it at all. Everybody knows how much we're going to miss him, but we believe in this clubhouse we can do it."

psullivan@tribune.com

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