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Cubs spoil Lee’s two-homer debut

Newly acquired Derrek Lee hit two homers but it wasn’t enough as the reeling Pirates lost to the Chicago Cubs 5-3 on Monday night. The Pirates are 3-9 in the past dozen games.

Call it “hitting the wall.”

Returning home after a brutal seven-game road trip, the Pittsburgh Pirates (54-53), who were greeted by a crowd of 22,048 at PNC Park Monday night, fell to the Chicago Cubs, 5-3.

Five and a half games out of first place in the N.L. Central race, the Pirates have now dropped four in a row, including a series sweep in Philadelphia over the weekend.

The Pirates’ primary offense came from the hot bat of newcomer Derrek Lee, who, in his first game in as a Pirate, clubbed two monster home-runs in the 4th and 8th innings, corralling all three of Pittsburgh’s runs. Lee became the first player since Shawon Dunston on September 2, 1997 vs. Cleveland to hit two homeruns in his Pirates debut.

Chicago, which had lost five of its last six coming into tonight’s contest, leaned on six solid frames from starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano, who surrendered just one run—Lee’s 378-foot left field shot in the 4th inning.  

Zambrano was supported by the Cubs’ offense that broke a 1-1 tie in the 6th inning, tallying up three runs off of the arm of pitcher Paul Maholm. The inning was highlighted by a Geovany Soto (.242) double that scored Starlin Castro and put Jeff Baker at 3rd base.

Maholm surrendered six hits and four earned runs in six innings.

“That sixth inning was a tough sequence,” said Hurdle. “We ended up giving up hits, extending that inning. That put us in a tough situation. They had three-two out RBI’s. Two on a 1-2 count and one on an 0-2 count.”

“I got in on Soto, he’s a good hitter, and he got it off and put it in the right place right down the line,” said Maholm (6-11), who lost his second start in three tries. “They bunched some hits together in that inning, and they scored.”

Maholm was 2-0 with an ERA of 0.39 in three starts against the Cubs before tonight.

The decision to intentionally walk Marlon Byrd right after the Soto double in the 6th came back to haunt the Pirates, as two batters later, Carlos Pena belted a sacrifice fly to left field, scoring the 3rd and final run of the inning.

“I wanted to get a ground ball double play,” said Maholm about walking Byrd to get to Alfonso Soriano. “I got my ground ball, but obviously it took Ronny (Cedeno) 3-4 steps to get there, and Soriano is a good enough runner to where he could beat it out.”

Without the bat of Lee, the Pirates offense went 8 for 30, with just one extra-base hit, a Neil Walker double in the 8th.

While the Pirates have lost significant ground in the NL standings—they were tied for first place on Monday night—Hurdle feels that this team just simply hit a little turbulence.

“It was all make-it-break-it two weeks ago,” said Hurdle. “We got through Atlanta, and we took on some turbulence in Philadelphia. Anybody that follows a Major League season, there’s ups and downs there’s challenges. We got our share and we have to play through them. Anybody thought this would be easy is fool of themselves and very naïve coming in.  We all know it’s going to take everything we got to get where we want to go. There are going to be challenges along the way.”

Carlos Zambrano (8-6), 6.0 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 SO, 4.46 ERA.  114 pitches, 66 strikes.
L: Paul Maholm (6-11), 6,0 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 3 SO, 3.27 ERA.  97 pitches, 59 strikes.

First baseman Derrek Lee, who was acquired by the Pirates on Saturday afternoon, after trading High-A baller Aaron Baker to Baltimore, checked in with his  25th career multi-home run game, his first since August 15th, 2010 in a game at St. Louis.

“First off, I was exhausted,” said Lee. “It seemed like a long two or three days. Anytime you change teams it’s a little bit of an adjustment. After a while I just kind of slowed down and realized it was the same game. Unfortunately they got the better of us today. Hopefully we can return the favor tommorow.”

Lee’s homers were the 13th and 14th of the season. He struck out in his first at bat.

“That’s why he (Zambrano) is so good,” said Lee about his first at-bat. “He’s able to mix up speeds like that. I struck out my first at-bat because of that. He threw a sinker, cutter, slider and a slow-curve. That’s why he’s so good, because he can mix it up.”

When asked about taking on a leader role, Lee gave a humbling response.

“I’m just going about my business as usual,” said Lee. “I don’t think you try to do anything out of the ordinary, your personality is your personality. I’m not going to go out of my way to do anything differently. I’m just going to be myself.”

“They are a great bunch of guys,” continued Lee. “They have great intensity and you can tell they want to win.”

Both Lee and Left Fielder Ryan Ludwick, who was traded to the Pirates on Saturday night by San Diego for a player to be named or cash considerations, were greeted by standing ovations from the crowd in their first at-bats. Ludwick walked in his first at-bat.

Ludwick went 0 for 3 at the dish, but had a solid excuse, as the left-fielder had to leave San Diego early in the morning, just to arrive in Pittsburgh at around 4:30 in the afternoon.

“I think I got here right around five,” said Ludwick about arriving to the clubhouse for the first time. “They were taking BP, and the only thing I ate all day was some egg soufflé thing on the plane, so I went straight into that kitchen and ordered up some food. The guys came in from BP and I said hi to whoever came up to me. I was in such a scramble that I couldn’t even take BP. It was such a rat-race today.”

The Pirates will look to avoid their longest losing streak of the season—five games—when they host the Cubs in the second of a three game series tomorrow night at 7:05.  RHP Randy Wells (2-4, 6.16) will face Kevin Correia (12-8, 4.24) who is fresh off of a 5-2 win at Atlanta last week.

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