Not news of trades, injuries to teammates or any other type of distraction could keep Lee's bat quiet as he delivered another dominating performance in the Cubs' 5-1 win over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday afternoon.
The Cubs picked up their second straight win thanks to the help of Lee's hot hitting, as the first baseman hit two home runs for the second consecutive game. Lee is hitting .357 on the season, and is 6-for-10 in the last three games with four home runs.
When asked if he can ever remember being in the zone for this long, Lee just shook his head.
"No, not for so long," Lee said with a smile. "I think I've had my swing pretty much the whole season."
Lee's two home runs, a solo shot in the first and a two-run bomb in the sixth, were a major part of the victory and have put him alone in first place in the National League with 16 homers. Lee finished the day 2-for-3 with one intentional walk. It was the 13th multi-homer game of Lee's career, which includes Friday's two-homer performance.
In a season plagued with injuries to starters Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Nomar Garciaparra, just to name a few, Lee has been the one constant highlight for the team. Manager Dusty Baker knows the Cubs have had to rely on Lee for much of their offense production to start the year, but feels comfortable with him in that role.
"He's a big ol' man with big ol' shoulders, and if anybody can do it, it's him," Baker said. "He's come into his own. He goes about his business quietly and doesn't boast or brag or flaunt what he's doing. He's a consummate professional."
While much of the Cubs' focus this season has been on what Lee has been able to accomplish, the first baseman has had some help in the last two wins.
As the injuries have piled up on the North Side, different players have had to step up. Glendon Rusch has been one of them, moving into the starting rotation when Kerry Wood was put on the disabled list.
Rusch (4-1) made only his fifth start of the year Saturday, but put in the kind of strong performance that the team has come to rely on from its starters during the nine games of the recent homestand. Besides Prior leaving due to injury in Friday's game, Cubs starters have gone at least seven innings in every game during the stretch.
Rusch pitched seven innings, allowing only one run on four hits while striking out four and walking three.
"I'm just happy to be a part of this staff," Rusch said. "Last year I felt it was an honor when I came here and got a chance to pitch in the rotation with Wood, Prior, Zambrano and Maddux. I think I feel the same way this year."
Rusch had similar numbers last season when he was called on to fill in for one of the Cubs' injured starters. Baker said that Rusch's performance on the mound Saturday was crucial to the win.
"G-Unit [Rusch], he struggled there during the one inning, but he got out of there with the big play, and he's thrown the ball great," Baker said.
The turning point of the game may not have come on Lee's second home run in the sixth, but instead an inning earlier, when Rusch got out of a sticky situation. With only one out and the bases loaded in the top of the fifth, Rusch was able to get Luis Gonzalez to hit into a double play, ending the Rockies' only real scoring threat.
"Gonzalez has been swinging the bat well this series and that was a huge play," Baker said. "That was probably the ballgame right there."
|Derrek Lee / 1B|
Weight: 245 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Following Rusch's big stop, the bats finally heated up for the Cubs. Todd Walker hit his first triple of the year to lead off the inning. Lee followed with his second blast of the day to give the team its first lead at 3-1. Two batters later, Aramis Ramirez hit his own two-run shot over the left-field wall to make it 5-1.
With so much going on around the team this season, Lee said that he's just happy to be able to get on the field come game time.
"It's nice to start playing the game because it all goes away," Lee said of all the commotion. "Once the game is over, you start thinking about all the stuff going on."
After a day filled with news of Prior's injury, a trade involving LaTroy Hawkins and the team getting its second win in a row, the most exciting thing for the players to talk about seemed to be the incredible play of Lee.
Rusch almost couldn't even put into words what it's been like to watch Lee have this type of start to a season.
"He's been unbelievable," Rusch said. "It's indescribable the number of clutch hits and big plays he's made for us this year. He's got a long way to go with a lot more hits and a lot more homers in him."
Kelly Thesier is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less