ST. LOUIS—While manager Dusty Baker squirms in the final weeks of the final year of his four-year contract, first baseman Derrek Lee wonders why the players don't get their share of the blame for the Cubs' disastrous season.
"It's funny to me that Dusty takes the brunt of it," said Lee, who will return from the disabled list Monday in Pittsburgh.
"We need to be taking the brunt of the blame. It's the players who play. It's unfortunate. We'd all love Dusty back."
The Cubs promptly went out and lost 10-6 to St. Louis on Sunday night on Gary Bennett's grand slam off Bob Howry with two outs in the ninth. The Cubs were swept at Busch Stadium, losing for the seventh time in their last eight games. The Cardinals increased their lead to three games over Cincinnati in the NL Central.
With the game tied 6-6, Albert Pujols led off the ninth with a single. He advanced on Scott Rolen's hit-and-run groundout to short. Juan Encarnacion reached on an infield hit when Aramis Ramirez hesitated on the throw to first, with Pujols advancing to third. Howry walked Ron Belliard to load the bases, before Aaron Miles grounded into a force at the plate.
Bennett followed with a slam to left, and the ballpark erupted.
"I threw a pitch down the plate to their hottest hitter," Howry said. "He hit it out. Made some decent pitches, got a couple ground balls, but threw it down the middle, hit it out, we lost."
Baker said the Cubs gave away three runs with poor fielding and questionable judgment, and the team needs to "play smarter."
"We gave them some extra outs there in that four-run inning, and that hurt," Baker said. "Some judgment plays. I've been in a lot of pennant races, and you've always got some unlikely heroes. Gary Bennett was the hero of this series. He's hot, about as hot as I've ever seen him."
It was the second day in a row Bennett had been a hero. He accounted for both runs in St. Louis' 2-1 win Saturday with a homer and a walk-off single.
The Cubs went 18-40 after Lee left the lineup with a broken wrist in April, thanks in part to the struggling offensive struggle of Ramirez and Juan Pierre. But Ramirez has hit .340 since the All-Star break, Pierre .296.
"It's easy to pin the blame on that," Lee said. "I think the bottom line is we didn't play good baseball. Even if I was in there, if we don't play good baseball, we're not going to win. It's as simple as that. [The record] was more due to the way we played than the injury."