CINCINNATI (AP)—Thousands of Cubs fans chanted “MVP!” whenever Derrek Lee came to the plate.
After another trailblazing game, who could argue?
Lee hit two of Chicago’s five homers off left-hander Brandon Claussen, sending the large contingent of blue-clad fans into its favorite chant, and the resurgent Cubs rolled to a 9-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night.
Lee became the first major leaguer to reach 30 homers this season, hitting solo shots off Claussen (4-7) in his first two at-bats. Todd Walker also homered twice, extending his hitting streak to 11 games.
Lee went 2-for-5, raising his average a point to .373, the best in the majors. He’s at or near the top of every hitting category.
“By far, he’s been the best player in baseball this year, and it’s been fun to watch,” Walker said.
Aramis Ramirez added a solo shot in the Cubs’ biggest homer barrage of the season. The five homers off Claussen equaled the most ever off a Reds pitcher.
The outburst was hardly a surprise. The series matches the NL’s top two power-hitting clubs—Cincinnati has 121 homers, the Cubs 120—in the ballpark that has yielded more homers than any other in the majors.
“It’s an offensive paradise,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. “You’re never comfortable here. It’s similar to playing in Colorado. The game’s not over or out of reach until the last out and you’re sitting in the clubhouse.”
The Cubs have won seven of eight, moving back above .500 (47-45) with a solid stretch by their starting rotation. In the last eight games, Cubs starters have allowed only 12 earned runs.
The loss snapped Cincinnati’s three-game winning streak, its longest this season.
A hot, sticky evening provided perfect conditions for the ball to carry, and it didn’t take the Cubs long to take advantage of the NL’s worst rotation. Reds starters lead the league in giving up runs and homers.
“It’s one of those parks where you can hit it anywhere and it will carry, and tonight there was a breeze blowing out,” Lee said.
Claussen had the rotation’s best ERA at 3.61, but didn’t even make it out of the fourth inning. Chicago’s five homers—none of them a cheap shot—traveled a combined 1,959 feet, landing in every part of the 3-year-old ballpark.
It could have been worse. Claussen noted that a few long drives went just foul.
“I’ve been hit this hard before. I’ve never given up that many home runs, though. They were even hitting home runs foul. It was like I was throwing watermelons up there and they were Gallagher,” Claussen said, referring to the comedian known for splattering melons with a sledgehammer.
Walker got the Cubs rolling with a one-out solo shot in the first. Two pitches later, Lee homered on a belt-high fastball, bringing the contingent of Cubs fans in the crowd of 24,311 to its feet.
Lee led off the third with an emphatic homer over the wall in center, and Ramirez followed with his 22nd homer, another long drive that made Claussen drop his head in disgust.
Walker also hit Chicago’s fifth homer, a two-run shot in the fourth. Cubs fans chanted “MVP! MVP!” when Lee followed him to the plate, only to draw a walk. He scored when Ramirez doubled deep to right—the ball deflected off the glove of Wily Mo Pena—for a 7-1 lead.
Lee has played in 89 of the Cubs’ 92 games, but just shrugs when anyone suggests he looks like he needs a day off.
“That’s just the way I look,” he said. “I keep hearing that I look tired. I’m not tired.”
Lee has been on a tear this season against the Reds, going 13-for-25 (.520) with six homers and 15 RBIs. … Belisle gave up four homers against the Cubs on April 18 in Cincinnati, and Milton did it April 26 at Wrigley Field. … The previous Reds pitcher to give up five homers was Chris Reitsma against Milwaukee on Aug. 31, 2002. The prior Reds left-hander to do it was Harry Perkowski on April 29, 1954, against Brooklyn at Crosley Field. … It was the sixth multihomer game for Lee this season and the 15th of his career. He also hit two homers against the Reds on April 27. … A total of 158 homers have been hit at Great American in 51 games this season, an average of more than three per game.