Red-hot Lee always keeps his cool
First baseman stays focused through incredible run
SAN DIEGO -- Derrek Lee isn't eating the same pregame chicken every day, or sticking a rabbit's foot in his pocket or sticking pins in any voodoo dolls of pitchers. He just keeps hitting and hitting and hitting.
Lee entered Thursday's game leading the National League in the Triple Crown categories with a .380 batting average, 17 home runs and 50 RBIs for the Chicago Cubs. The team has never had a Triple Crown winner. Lee could be the first.
"This is two months' worth," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said Thursday, trying to keep the hype in check. "It's not Barry Bonds' 10, 12 years' worth."
Lee went 5-for-5 with four RBIs on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and when asked about it on Thursday, he simply called it a "good game."
"You're just locked in, you're in a zone and you see everything really, really good," Cubs hitting coach Gene Clines said, trying to explain the roll that Lee is on these days. "It doesn't matter what they throw up there. The only person I can compare this to is probably Barry -- when they would pitch to him.
"The good thing about Derrek is he's taking what they're giving him and he's not afraid to walk," Clines said. "And if they pitch around him, he'll take the walk."
Baker doesn't expect pitchers to bypass Lee.
"Pitchers have pride," Baker said. "They want to get the big gun."
Lee is the first Cub to reach 50 RBIs in 51 games since Sammy Sosa did so in 2000. Billy Williams collected 50 RBIs in 49 games in 1969. In 1930, Hack Wilson set a Major League record with 191 RBIs. He drove in his 50th run on June 3, 1930, in the Cubs' 44th game that year.
So far, Lee has eight two-hit games, five three-hit games, three four-hit games and one five-hit games.
Lee's low-key personality certainly helps. He's been interviewed by nearly everyone with a microphone or notebook on this West Coast trip, wanting to know what the big first baseman is doing differently. And Lee, who started the season a career .266 hitter, always says the same thing -- he's not doing anything differently.
"He has a very consistent personality," Baker said. "Some guys, you can walk into the clubhouse and tell who's hot and who's not by whether they're grumpy or not."
Lee's the same even-keel person whether he's 0-for-5 or 5-for-5. Baker doesn't want to mention the Triple Crown.
"The batting average is the hard thing," Baker said, "but that's way down the line. We don't want to put pressure on him. We want him to keep doing what he's doing, and [don't want him to] even start thinking about anything like that."
Of course, the advance scouts will try to figure Lee out. Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe tested Lee, throwing a sinker, a curve and a changeup -- and Lee hit them all. He said it seems as if the ball is coming at him in slow motion.
"You see it so good for so long," Clines said. "Very rarely are you fooled. It's hard to explain or describe it. I wish you could put a patent on it and say, 'You do this.'"
Lee had a history of getting off to slow starts. This year, he batted .419 in April and won National League Player of the Month honors. He was named NL Player of the Week last week.
"This year, I saw something in Spring Training that I liked, and it just stuck," Clines said. "The last two weeks of Spring Training, he was ready to go.
"Usually, you get guys like that, and then the season starts and you get a little downside. He's been solid ever since."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.