Lee belted two home runs, including his 10th career grand slam, to drive in a personal-high seven runs and power the Cubs to a 9-5 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. Chicago now trails Milwaukee and St. Louis by 2 1/2 games in the National League Central.
The home runs were impressive. Lee is batting .386 in his last 11 games and notched his 20th career multihomer game. For Lee, the win was even more important.
"I think it's a big one," Lee said about taking the first of four against the Brewers. "You're playing division teams, teams that are ahead of you. I think we were 3 1/2 back coming into this one. You're not going to win the division [this series], but you can definitely fall back. It's important we play well this homestand and finish strong going into the break."
Lee hit a three-run homer in the first off Seth McClung (3-2) and his second slam this season in the fourth to top his previous RBI high of six -- done twice, most recently April 27, 2005, against Cincinnati. The Cubs first baseman now has 14 homers, and three in the last two games.
"Derrek's been swinging the bat well for a while," manager Lou Piniella said. "You look up there, and all of a sudden, you see 14 home runs and 48 RBIs and a .290 batting average. He's getting some runs in for us, which is important."
Jake Fox and Geovany Soto each smacked solo shots to back Ryan Dempster (5-5), who picked up his first win since May 30. The right-hander served up eight hits, including a two-run homer by Mike Cameron in the Brewers' second and a solo shot by Prince Fielder leading off the sixth. Dempster struck out nine over 6 2/3 innings to match a season high. He also struck out nine May 9 against the Brewers.
Falling into an early hole was tough, "especially with Dempster," Cameron said.
"I think he's the kind of guy that thrives in those situations," Cameron said. "It's just tough. The Cubs are playing pretty well, so their confidence level is up. We kept fighting."
Dempster was upset he hung a slider to Cameron, but figured his teammates would rally.
"There was something about the guys today, they really came out fired up," Dempster said. "It was a feeling that it was going to be one of those days we were going to go score a bunch of runs. I tried to keep making pitches. It was a really nice win."
What helped him was better command of his fastball instead of being too "offspeed happy." Plus, Dempster wanted to make up for a disappointing outing his last start against the White Sox when he gave up five runs over five innings.
The nine runs Thursday were the most by the Cubs since May 14, when they defeated San Diego, 11-2. Give rookie Sam Fuld credit for getting things started.
Fuld, leading off in in place of Alfonso Soriano, who was battling through a .179 funk in his last 35 games, drew a walk to lead off the Cubs' first, and Ryan Theriot singled to set up Lee's 13th home run. One out later, Fox hit his third homer to make it 4-0.
Cameron's homer closed the gap to 4-2, but Soto led off the Chicago fourth with his blast, and the Cubs then loaded the bases for Lee, whose slam cleared the left-field bleachers.
"Bases loaded, 3-1, that's about the best hitting situation you can be in," Lee said. "He has to throw a strike, he can't walk you there. You're trying to be aggressive."
It was an under-control aggressive at-bat. In reality, Lee tried to slow things down.
"There's some nights when the game slows down a little bit, and tonight was one of those nights," Lee said. "The 2-0 pitch, I got a great pitch to hit, and I swung too hard. I told myself to take a nice easy swing, and I took a lot better swing at 3-1."
Lee, who hit .333 in June, came out for a curtain call after the slam from the crowd of 40,545, which also stood and applauded before his next at-bat in the sixth. He has not been in the top five in the All-Star balloting among NL first basemen. There's some pretty good talent there, including Fielder, St. Louis' Albert Pujols and Philadelphia's Ryan Howard.
"I think I'll enjoy my three days off," Lee said, laughing.
Piniella does have a little bit of a problem. Fuld notched his second straight multihit game and has done everything the Cubs want a leadoff man to do.
"Let's see what we do," Piniella said. "We're obviously pleased with the two games, to his credit. And we've won a couple games."
Fuld wasn't going to go into the manager's office to make a suggestion.
"I'm happy helping out wherever I can," Fuld said. "If I'm hitting one, eighth or ninth, it doesn't matter to me."
As long as Lee is behind him, it seems to be working.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.