Lee, Ramirez enjoy first All-Star Game
Now, Cubs turn focus to challenging second half of season
DETROIT -- Between them, Chicago Cubs infielders Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez have played in nearly 1,800 big-league games.
Despite their vast experience, the duo felt more like rookies than grizzled veterans as they looked around the star-studded National League clubhouse prior to the 76th Midsummer Classic on Tuesday.
"This is like Opening Day for me," said Ramirez. "I'm so excited to be out there. I can't wait for the game to start."
"This is what you play for -- to be one of the best players," Lee said. "You look around and these are the best players. It's cool to be one of those guys."
Unlike most first-time All-Stars, Lee and Ramirez didn't have to worry about whether or not they'd get a token at-bat during the game because both Cubs made their All-Star debuts as members of the NL starting lineup.
Lee, batting cleanup in the NL in its 7-5 loss, went 1-for-3, including a double down the left-field line against defending American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana of the Minnesota Twins.
"I'll take it," said Lee. "It was good to get the first All-Star hit."
Ramirez, the first Cubs player to man the hot corner in an All-Star Game since Bill Madlock was named co-MVP along with Jon Matlack in 1975, went 1-for-2 with a walk while hitting out of the sixth spot in the lineup. In his first All-Star at-bat, Ramirez singled off White Sox ace Mark Buehrle in the second inning.
"It was a good feeling to get that first hit out of the way," said Ramirez. "After that, I could just relax and try to help the team as much as I could."
Lee, who will enter the second half of the season with a legitimate shot at the first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, earned his spot as the starting first baseman by beating out St. Louis Cardinals' superstar Albert Pujols in the fan voting.
"Being my first game I would have taken it either way," Lee said. "But to start is extra special. To be voted in by the fans is just a great feeling and I feel honored.
"I think it says a lot about the fans' knowledge of the game. They're paying attention. They're not just punching the ballot. It's easy to [vote for] Albert Pujols. He's a Hall of Fame guy. But they kind of recognized what I was doing in the first half and they rewarded me."
Ramirez replaced banged up Cardinals star Scott Rolen as the starting third baseman for the NL.
With their first All-Star Game behind them, Lee and Ramirez looked forward to a healthier second half and a possible playoff run by their team. The Cubs (43-44) trail the Cardinals by 12 1/2 games in the NL Central standings, and are six games behind the Atlanta Braves in the Wild Card race.
"[The first half] was tough," said Ramirez. "We had a lot of injuries and a lot of guys went down. But we battled through and we are only one game below .500."
"We can't really have any more down spells," said Lee. "We need to play good for the next 2 1/2 months straight."
The Cubs will return to action Thursday with the first of a four-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field.
"[The Pittsburgh series] is going to be pretty important," said Ramirez. "We won the last three games in Florida and we got the momentum going. Hopefully, we can go and sweep the Pirates just like we did the Marlins."
And it is the team goals, rather than any thoughts of a Triple Crown, which will be the focus of Lee's attention during the second half of the season.
"We have an uphill battle and that's all you can concern yourself with," said Lee. "The only time [the Triple Crown] crosses my mind is if you [reporters] ask me about it or I see it on SportsCenter. It's really not a goal. My goal is to get to the postseason."
Ed Eagle is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.