"What can you say? No doubt in my mind, [he's] the MVP of this league," McKeon said of Lee, who hit 31 homers and won a Gold Glove for the Marlins in 2003. "I'm so proud of him because he is such a class individual. He goes about his work in a business-like manner. There's no fanfare with him. He's steady Eddie all the time.
"I saw him last night in a restaurant. We chatted," McKeon said. "I told him how proud I was of him. You go through what we did in 2003 with guys like Lee and [Ivan Rodriguez] and them guys -- you really appreciate the gamers. They were two of them."
"I think he was just trying to compliment me," Lee said. "Fifty is a great number. It'd be nice to hit 50."
He'll get started on No. 40 on Monday. Lee had a better approach on Sunday. The first baseman was in a mini two-game, 0-for-8 slump, and connected on his first homer of the game with two outs in the first. He launched the first pitch from Josh Beckett (12-8) over the left-field fence and the sign celebrating Ryne Sandberg's number retirement ceremony.
Lee led off the eighth with his second blast, but it was the All Star's first homer of the day that pushed him past Hall of Famer Ernie Banks to claim the new franchise mark. Banks' old record of 37 homers was set in 1962.
"It's nice to have success," Lee said. "There's a lot of tradition here. The Cubs have been around a long time. To have the highest home run total is an honor."
The National League's leading hitter with a .349 average, Lee has not gone hitless in more than two consecutive games this year.
"I felt like I wasn't being aggressive," Lee said of the past two games. "I was taking the wrong approach and being passive. Today, I made up my mind to be aggressive. The first two games, I was getting pitches down the middle, which I hadn't got in a while, and I wasn't ready for them. Today, I made up my mind -- I'd rather swing and miss at a bad pitch than miss a good pitch to hit."
Lee's change of approach helped Carlos Zambrano (11-5), who struck out six and walked two over eight innings for his third straight win. He also scored on Jerry Hairston's single in the seventh after hitting his second triple this year.
"That's a gift from God. I'm there to pitch," Zambrano said of his hit.
"It's a huge boost when you have the guy in the No. 9 hole getting triples and scoring runs," Lee said.
Zambrano and Lee were part of the Cubs' 15-hit attack. Hairston had three hits and four RBIs, Henry Blanco drove in three and Todd Hollandsworth added a two-run double to help the Cubs avoid a sweep.
"It's only appropriate that we won on Ryno's day here," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.
The pregame festivities had the sellout crowd of 38,763 pumped. Zambrano faced the minimum through three innings and gave up his first hit with one out in the fourth, when Jeff Conine hit a liner toward the mound. Zambrano reached for it with his bare hand -- which the Cubs don't want him to do -- and deflected the ball toward Nomar Garciaparra at third. Conine was safe on the infield single.
"Maybe next Spring Training, I will work on that," said Zambrano, who was hit on the nail.
The Marlins tied the game at three on Carlos Delgado's three-run homer in the sixth. But rookie shortstop Ronny Cedeno hit a tie-breaking RBI single with two out in the Cubs' sixth, fouling off six pitches before connecting. It was a big hit.
"That was a good at-bat, and I think that was the key of the game," Zambrano said of Cedeno's at-bat. "He's getting more comfortable."
The Cubs then pulled away, scoring eight runs in the seventh, the team's most in one inning this season. The previous high was seven, set on June 4 at San Diego. Key hits included a pair of RBI singles by Hairston, a three-run double by Blanco, and a two-run double by Hollandsworth.
"The only mistake 'Z' made was on Delgado," Baker said. "It was supposed to be a fastball away, and it came back over the plate. He made some great pitches and had a big triple for us. It's a great feeling to have that kind of offensive support from everybody."
But it's most likely too late to help the Cubs get back in the Wild Card race.
"It's frustrating," Lee said about not being in the playoffs. "It doesn't sit well. It's hard to explain. You've got to try to stay positive and finish strong and take something good into the offseason."