"It is in the win column," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said with a smile as reporters walked into his office. "It is in the win column."
After a big six-run fourth inning, it looked like the Cubs would simply put it on cruise control to head home with a victory. Starting pitcher Ryan Dempster was locked in, going 6 2/3 innings with two runs allowed and six strikeouts. Piniella removed first baseman Derrek Lee in the fifth inning, saying he wanted to give the veteran some rest with the blowout in hand.
"A nice comfortable lead going into the ninth. I felt pretty good," Piniella said.
The Cardinals had other plans. The ninth inning started with a surprise, when St. Louis backup catcher Steven Hill -- fresh from the Minors -- led off with his first career Major League home run. While taking a run away from a seven-run lead is harmless enough, Cubs reliever Marcos Mateo lost control after that and put the next three batters on base.
Cards backups Nick Stavinoha and Aaron Miles singled, bringing a visit to the mound from pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Whatever he said had little effect, as Marcos walked nine-hole hitter Brendan Ryan on five pitches, loading the bases with zero out.
"He had been pitching, throwing the ball well," Piniella said. "That home run must have shook him up, because he sort of lost his composure out there. I guess it is a learning experience for these kids."
With James Russell in for Mateo, the left-hander got Skip Schumaker to strike out on a foul tip, but walked left-hander Jon Jay on four pitches to bring in a run. Piniella had seen enough and called in Marmol.
Marmol gave up a two-run single to Felipe Lopez and walked Randy Winn before inducing consecutive groundouts to end the five-run inning. A win is a win.
"A ninth like that is a little misleading, because if the game was close, Marmol would have been in there sooner," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said, downplaying his team's comeback that surely had most Cubs fans ready to throw their remote through the TV.
Such a large comeback was only possible after such an explosive fourth inning for the Cubs. Marlon Byrd and Xavier Nady started the fourth with soft singles that found holes in the outfield, and a Blake DeWitt walk loaded the bases against Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse. Catcher Koyie Hill struck one batter later with his second double in as many days, crushing a ground-rule two-bagger over the center-field wall, driving in Byrd and Nady.
The Cubs kept their foot on the gas, with Dempster helping his own cause with an RBI single, driving in DeWitt.
Kosuke Fukudome sent a double down the left field line, bringing in Hill. It was the 1,500th hit of Fukudome's professional career, combining his Japanese and Major League totals.
With Lohse driven from the game, Cardinals reliever Mike MacDougal allowed Dempster to score after a wild pitch, but was finally able to record some outs, getting Starlin Castro to ground out and Lee to strike out looking. The Cubs still had one more run in them, however, with Byrd driving in Fukudome on an opposite-field single.
"A bloop, a ball in the hole, and then all hell broke loose after that," Lohse said.
Lee got the Cubs on the board first, with solo homers to straight center in the first and third innings. It was the 24th multi-homer game for Lee, and makes four home runs in three games since spending four days on the bereavement list.
"Getting a little rest, a little breather. Breathers are good for these guys," Piniella said to explain the power surge.