Lilly dominant as Cubs shut out Astros
Ill-fated steal starter's only blemish; Lee belts 27th homer
CHICAGO -- Ted Lilly needs to stick to pitching.
The left-hander, who does not have the go-ahead to steal bases, held Houston to four hits over eight innings, and Carlos Marmol picked up his fifth straight save as the Cubs beat the Astros, 2-0, Wednesday to win the series.
Derrek Lee belted a two-run homer, his 27th, in the fourth inning for all the offense Lilly (10-8) needed. Chicago began the day six games behind Colorado in the National League Wild Card race and won for the 10th time in the last 26 games.
"We're fully aware of what we need to do," Lilly said. "We have to win the game we're playing. You've heard it a thousand times -- we don't have any influence on who wins the game we're not playing in. We go out there and put all our concentration and physical and mental energy into the game that we have to deal with, and we're putting ourselves in the best chance to win."
Lilly joined rookie Randy Wells (10-7) in the double-digit win category. However, Lilly tried to do a little too much in the third. He singled with one out, the first hit off Astros starter Felipe Paulino, and was thrown out trying to steal second, getting tagged as he dove headfirst into the base.
"About the only thing bad today was that ill attempt trying to steal second base," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.
Did Lilly have a green light?
"The light was red as hell," Piniella said.
So, nobody missed a sign?
"There was nothing missed," Piniella said. "Teddy just brainstormed that one. He tried to make things happen."
"Obviously, it didn't turn out too well," Lilly said. "I thought I could get a good jump. I started to, and I hesitated at the last second. The combination of the pitcher, catcher and my speed doesn't suit up well for me to steal that base. To do that, the lead and the jump I have to get has to be so much to make up for my lack of speed and the strength of the [catcher's] throwing arm and the pitcher's quickness to the plate -- it didn't set up very well."
He won't do it again.
"Fortunately, we can kind of joke about it because we won," he said. "I'd rather have not attempted that in that situation."
Back to pitching -- which was probably Piniella's message in the dugout -- Lilly gave up a leadoff single to Carlos Lee in the second, a two-out single to Kaz Matsui in the third and a leadoff double to Hunter Pence in the fourth. He retired 13 in a row before Humberto Quintero blooped a double over Derrek Lee with one out in the eighth.
"He's where he is because he knows what he's doing," Pence said of Lilly, who is 7-1 against the Astros in his career, including a 4-0 mark this year. "He's just crafty. Everything is changing speeds, changing your eye level. We had some opportunities, and he pitched well."
"I didn't feel like he got going until the fifth," Cubs catcher Koyie Hill said, "and after that he was locked in."
In his last four games, Lilly has given up four earned runs over 27 1/3 innings.
"One thing I've been doing a little more is working away and working the outside corner more than I have in the past," he said. "I'm learning about pitching that way more than I have in the past."
As for the offense, Andres Blanco doubled to lead off the Chicago fourth and Lee followed with his 27th home run off an 0-1 pitch from Paulino (2-7). Lee, who hit 20 home runs in 2008, now has 16 homers and 51 RBIs in 55 games since July 1.
"I only set one goal and that's to try to reach the postseason and win a championship," said Lee, who could finish with 30 homers and 100 RBIs. "I don't really concern myself with the numbers."
The increased power could be because the Cubs' first baseman is finally 100 percent from a wrist injury that sidelined him most of 2006.
"Looking back, I would have to say yes, [the wrist injury] had an effect on him, especially power-wise," Piniella said. "When there's something that's not right there, it makes it more difficult. To his credit, he's having a really, really solid season."
"Who knows?" said Lee, when asked if the wrist injury was the reason. "I had two down years. You just keep going. People point to my power, but we made the playoffs each year [his numbers were down]. I think any player will tell you they'll trade their numbers for the postseason every time."
The Cubs are running out of time to secure a playoff spot this year.
"Even if you are out of it, it's not like you roll over anyway," Lee said. "You play to win. There's only one way to play, and we'll finish the season as strong as we can."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.