After Derrek Lee launched a late-inning Cubs comeback with a game-tying, two-run home run in Wednesday's 6-3 win over Milwaukee, the two operative words of the afternoon were "what if?"
Lee's first homer since his return from a broken wrist ignited a five-run eighth-inning rally as the Cubs halted their losing streak at five games and ended their Wrigley Field drought after nine straight home losses.
"It's only one [win]," manager Dusty Baker said. "But it seems like 10."
The Cubs had not raised the "W" flag at Wrigley Field the entire month of June and were 8-20 at home since April 13. So what if Lee had been around the last two months. Could the Cubs have mustered enough wins to stay in the race in the mediocre National League Central?
Those questions can't be answered.
But the absence of their best clutch hitter for more than two months proved to be a much bigger handicap than anyone would have imagined in April.
"Now you can see what we have with D-Lee back," Baker said.
Rookie right-hander Carlos Marmol carried a one-hit shutout into the seventh inning, Juan Pierre homered for the first time in nearly a year and Ryan Dempster collected his 12th save, one night after blowing a game in spectacular fashion. The Cubs trailed 3-1 in the eighth when Todd Walker led off with a double off Dan Kolb. Lee promptly blasted a two-run shot to left on a 1-0 pitch, his first homer since April 8 against St. Louis.
"After he hit his home run, he was like, 'That's how the big boys hit 'em,'" Pierre said. "I still think mine was louder than his."
After Kolb got two outs, Jacque Jones singled to left and Ronny Cedeno blooped a doubled over the glove of Rickie Weeks in short right field. Third base coach Chris Speier aggressively waved Jones around from first, and he managed to beat Geoff Jenkins' throw, which catcher Chad Moeller couldn't handle anyway.
Henry Blanco followed with an RBI triple into the right field corner, giving the Cubs a two-run lead. Jose Cappelan replaced Kolb and pinch-hitter John Mabry doubled to right, scoring Blanco for the 6-3 final.
Carlos Lee, who loves hitting at Wrigley Field, doubled in the second inning, but Marmol did not allow another hit until Jenkins singled with one out in the seventh. After another single, Marmol hit Prince Fielder with a pitch to load the bases. Scott Eyre replaced him and gave up a game-tying RBI single to Corey Koskie, then got out of the inning with a double-play grounder.
Derrek Lee's heroics followed, and the Cubs went on to score five runs in the inning and give Dempster some insurance heading into the ninth. Dempster looked a little shaky with his control, but did the job he was paid to do, ending the losing streak that was making life miserable in Wrigleyville.
"You can't look at the standings," Dempster said. "You can't look at anything but today's game. Just enjoy this and come out and play with the same intensity. What a performance we got today from Marmol, and just having D-Lee back, just his presence in the lineup.
"Even the days he goes oh-for, it makes a difference. It hasn't made us 19 games under .500 missing him, but it makes a difference having him back, that's for sure."