On Saturday, Ted Lilly was thinking about a start way back on April 28, 2001. He was pitching for the New York Yankees then. The lefty faced the Oakland Athletics at old Yankee Stadium and lasted 5 2/3 innings, giving up three runs on two hits and three walks.
It was good enough for his first Major League win. On Saturday, Lilly picked up his 100th victory as he held the St. Louis Cardinals to four hits over eight innings in the Cubs' 5-2 win in front of 41,210 at Wrigley Field.
"It's pretty special," Lilly said. "I was just thinking today about my first one, which was in New York against Oakland. Just getting that one, I wasn't thinking about getting 99 more.
"It's a cool thing, and then you come into the clubhouse and you're talking to your buddies and they're telling you that you only have 200 more to go."
The Cubs' lone All-Star, Lilly (9-6) notched his sixth straight win at home and lowered his ERA at Wrigley to 1.86. He struck out four and walked one in his team-leading 14th quality start. He's the second Cubs pitcher to reach 100 wins this year; Carlos Zambrano also did so on June 5.
"Being the All-Star representative from this team says it all," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "He's been our best pitcher. He's won the most games. Here at home, he's been really successful."
He's been stingy, too. In Lilly's last 54 2/3 innings, he's walked seven and struck out 49. But Lilly doesn't care about the numbers.
"The whole objective is to try to do what I can to help us get into first place," he said. "I think when I look at my first half, it's nice and it's one of the better first halves I've had, at least statistically. But you still know there's a lot of pitching to do, and a lot of really important pitching coming up in the second half of the season, more so than the first half. It's nice to get off to a good start but more important to finish strong."
Lilly wanted to finish the game and would have been given a chance, but his spot came up in the order in the eighth and Piniella wanted to see if they could get some insurance runs. St. Louis added a run in the ninth on Yadier Molina's RBI single off Carlos Marmol. The Cardinals were happy to see Lilly out of the game.
"He's got a lot of weapons," St. Louis' Ryan Ludwick said. "He's got a cutter, a four-seamer which he can run up to 93 [mph] when he wants to. He's got the big hook and the changeup, so he's just one of those guys who's an extremely smart, intelligent pitcher, and with the weapons I just mentioned, he's the type of guy who can keep hitters off-balance, because there's so much diversity between the different pitches.
"If you saw him four times in a game, he could attack you four different ways if he wanted to."
Lilly also didn't get rattled when called for a balk in the fourth inning.
"No situation is too big for him," Cubs catcher Koyie Hill said. "He's out there competing, but he competes with himself, so it's nothing where he's going to get taken out of his element. He has great mound presence, great composure. If the younger guys want somebody to look to, he's the guy."
The win was marred when Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee had to leave the game after the fifth because of neck spasms, which he aggravated sliding into second base on a double. Lee, who was diagnosed with a bulging disc in May, said he expects to play Sunday.
The Cubs loaded the bases with two outs in the first against Brad Thompson (2-6), who then hit Milton Bradley with a pitch to force in a run. Jeff Baker, making his second start, followed with a two-run single.
With one out in the Chicago fifth, Ryan Theriot singled, reached third on Lee's double and scored when Aramis Ramirez grounded out for a 4-1 lead. Alfonso Soriano added an RBI single to chase Thompson.
The win was important to the Cubs, not just because they're now 3 1/2 games behind the Cardinals in the National League Central, but because of how badly they played on Friday in an 8-3 loss.
"This is a big series," Lilly said. "We didn't play very well [Friday]. It was important to go out there and just make fewer mistakes."
Sunday marks the first-half finale, a day-night doubleheader.
"We'll see where we are after the second game [Sunday] night," Piniella said. "We could be 1 1/2 [games back], 3 1/2 or 5 1/2. We'll find out."