After missing two games to attend the birth of his son, Dylan, Derrek Lee returned to the Cubs' lineup on Saturday. Not coincidentally, Chicago's offense returned to form and the Cubs returned to the win column.
Lee hit two second-deck home runs to left field to power the Cubs' 5-3 win over the Mets at Citi Field. Aramis Ramirez added a two-run shot of his own to support Rich Harden, who struck out 10 Mets in earning his ninth win of the year.
"Derrek, obviously, was the main attraction," manager Lou Piniella said. "It was nice to have him back. He provided the fireworks today."
Without Lee in the lineup the past two days, the Cubs had managed to score just two runs in two defeats. In Friday night's 6-2 loss to the Mets, the team went 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position and left 12 men on base.
In his return, Lee provided the big hits the Cubs had been missing -- and long ones at that.
With the game tied at 2 and Kosuke Fukudome on first with two outs in the fifth, Lee launched a 1-1 cutter from Nelson Figueroa into the second deck in left field to put the Cubs up, 4-2.
Lee led off the eighth with another second-deck shot to left, this time off an Elmer Dessens sinker. It re-established Chicago's two-run advantage.
"It'll be a good story," Lee said. "I told my daughter before I left -- she always asks me to hit a home run -- so I told her I have to hit a home run for you and Dylan. It's going to be tough. I'm sure she was excited today watching."
Lee was on first for Ramirez's blast, a two-run shot in the fourth that gave the Cubs their first lead of the series. Chicago had managed only one hit in the first three innings off Figueroa, who had limited them to a run on six hits Sunday at Wrigley Field.
"I just feel good at the plate," Lee said matter-of-factly.
The first baseman has recovered from a slow start to the season and now has 29 home runs and 93 RBIs -- the most he's had in either category since his tremendous 2005 season.
Lee had been hitting under .200 as late as May 16. After his 3-for-4 performance on Saturday, his average is up to .298 -- the highest it's been all season.
Harden, meanwhile, was overpowering if inefficient in his five innings. Coming off his worst start of the season's second half, Harden gave up two runs -- one earned -- and recorded all 10 of his strikeouts on swings and misses. It was the third time this season Harden reached double digits in strikeouts, and the right-hander has 19 punchouts in his past 10 innings.
At the same time, he surrendered seven hits and needed 102 pitches to get through five frames.
"I felt really good today," Harden said. "Their approach was to try to get me deep into the count, foul off some balls and make me throw a lot of pitches. ... I want to go deeper into the game."
Harden, like Carlos Zambrano the night before, struggled with Mets left fielder Cory Sullivan, who hit a second-inning solo home run for the second consecutive game. Sullivan also worked out a walk in the fourth and scored an unearned run on an Anderson Hernandez infield single.
Harden's high pitch count was largely the result of that fourth inning, which required 36 pitches. Of course, the 10 strikeouts didn't help the pitch count.
"You like some early contact and some early outs," Harden said. "It just wasn't happening today. I was getting to two strikes, and they were fouling pitches off."
Harden added that it was as strong as he had felt all season.
The Chicago bullpen was able to hold down the fort for the final four innings, even with former Mets reliever Aaron Heilman allowing a run in the seventh. Carlos Marmol entered the game with two outs in the eighth and, following a walk to the first man he faced to load the bases, recorded the game's final four outs.
Marmol, who took over the closer's role in mid-August, earned his ninth save of the year and his first that required more than three outs.
"He's my freshest pitcher in the bullpen, and we needed to get him in the ballgame," Piniella said. "As it was, it got a little interesting."
Interesting doesn't begin to describe Lee's past few days, from the birth of his second child to a starring role in his return to the order.
"Having kids, there's nothing like it," Lee said. "It's been a good week."
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less