<
>

Dempster blows first save chance but gets win

CHICAGO (AP) -- Derrek Lee's swing was stronger than the gusty
wind on a raw day at Wrigley Field.

Lee led off the bottom of the 10th inning with his 10th homer,
giving Chicago a 4-3 win Wednesday over the New York Mets and
saving the Cubs after yet another meltdown by the bullpen.

"I guess we don't do anything the easy way," manager Dusty
Baker said.

Lee's homer came on a 3-2 pitch from Heath Bell (0-1) and ended
an 11-pitch at-bat. The Cubs, who won for only the third time in 11
games, took two of three from New York.

"He just kept challenging me. I'm glad we won. It was cold out
there. I'm glad to get it over with," Lee said.

The gametime temperature of 49 degrees was 28 degrees colder
than Tuesday night's game. Coupled with a 14 mph wind blowing in
from left field, it had fans bundled up and players blowing on
their hands all day.

But Lee, the Cubs' best hitter all season, got his drive through
the wind and just into the seats in left-center.

"You couldn't get a cannon through that wind, and on the last
pitch he was able to do it," Mets manager Willie Randolph said.

When the ball left Lee's bat, he wasn't sure it had enough.

"I had a lot of doubt when I hit it. I thought it was gone and
as I was watching it I thought I was going to get mad, the ball
isn't going to make it out," Lee said. "You saw a couple of balls
hit that on normal days would be gone for sure."

Mark Prior allowed just two hits in seven strong innings for
Chicago, but the Mets tied it at 3 on pinch-hitter Eric Valent's
two-out single in the ninth off new closer Ryan Dempster (2-3).

Dempster blew his first save chance of the season, got the win
and then went for X-rays on his right forearm after getting hit by
Mike Piazza's line drive in the 10th. The X-rays were negative, and
Dempster has a deep bruise. He will be evaluated Thursday.

With the Cubs leading 3-2 in the ninth, Dempster gave up a
one-out walk to Doug Mientkiewicz and a single to David Wright
before fanning Victor Diaz for the second out. But Valent lined a
single to left to tie the game and deny Prior a victory.

It was the second start in a row that Prior pitched a gem, only
to have his bullpen cost him a win by blowing a lead in the ninth.
Chicago's struggling bullpen now has five blown saves.

The Cubs loaded the bases in the ninth, but couldn't score.
Neifi Perez hit a comebacker to Bell, who started a 1-2-3 double
play that ended the inning.

But Bell lost the showdown with Lee in the 10th. After the count
reached 3-2, Lee hit five straight foul balls before connecting for
the game-winner.

"Right now he's hitting the ball well and he hit it
perfectly," Bell said. "It's not a good feeling. I had a pitch on
the outside at 2-2 that I definitely thought was a strike. But you
can't blame the umpire. I'm just more disappointed to let the team
down."

Diaz's bases-loaded double in the second staked Victor Zambrano
to a 2-0 lead, but Chicago scored three in the bottom half, taking
the lead on Perez's RBI single.

Prior walked three and struck out seven, retiring 13 straight
until Diaz singled with one out in the seventh. And the
right-hander might have escaped the second inning if not for the
first of two errors by second baseman Jerry Hairston.

Prior walked Cliff Floyd, and Hairston booted Piazza's potential
double-play grounder before a walk to Mientkiewicz loaded the bases
with none out. One out later, Diaz drove a two-run double off the
right-field fence.

The Cubs scored three in the bottom half, thanks to Zambrano's
wildness. Hairston was hit by a pitch, and Henry Blanco's fly into
the wind fell in front of center fielder Carlos Beltran for a
single. Zambrano committed a balk, then threw a wild pitch that
allowed Hairston to score.

Prior walked, and when Corey Patterson hit a grounder to first,
Mientkiewicz stepped on the bag and threw home, but Piazza couldn't
hold it as Blanco scored, tying the game.

Perez then singled to score Prior for a 3-2 lead.

Zambrano allowed just three hits and three runs in six innings.

Game notes
Cubs 3B Aramis Ramirez missed the game with back spasms. He
was forced to leave Tuesday night's game in the seventh inning when
his back began to bother him and is day-to-day. ... Wright, who
fouled a ball off his foot Monday and didn't play Tuesday, was back
in the lineup with just a bruise. He made a diving stop of Lee's
hard grounder in the fifth. ... Mientkiewicz saved a run in the
fourth when he went high in the air and knocked down Patterson's
line drive, picked up the ball and beat him to the bag. ... Prior
threw 110 pitches.