HOUSTON -- As soon as Blake Lalli got word to his family that he was getting called up to the big leagues, they circled this coming weekend on the calendar. Lalli is coming home.

The Cubs rookie catcher, called up last Friday from Triple-A Iowa, grew up in Gibsonia, Pa., which is about 15 miles north of Pittsburgh. His parents would take him to Three Rivers Stadium to watch Bobby Bonilla, Andy Van Slyke and Barry Bonds, who were his favorite players. He also went to lots of games at PNC Park as a fan.

His parents, aunts, uncles and more still live there, so he needs tickets for 30 people. Minimum.

"They've probably been waiting a long time for this, too," Lalli said Wednesday.

After an off-day Thursday, the Cubs open a three-game series against the Pirates on Friday. The timing is perfect.

"It'll be neat to get there later tonight and have the off-day there, and get a home cooked meal from mom," he said.

The Cubs needed Lalli, who turned 29 on May 12, after losing three catchers to injuries in a short stretch of days.

"One of the first things [my family] said was, 'You're coming to Pittsburgh,'" said Lalli, a high school teammate of Pirates second baseman Neil Walker. "Obviously, your dream is to play in the big leagues, and then to go back to your home town is unbelievable."

He followed the team closely, including a certain infielder who played for the Pirates and is now his manager on the Cubs. Dale Sveum played for the Pirates in 1996, '97, and '99.

"I'm excited to go home," Lalli said.

Maholm eager for first start against Bucs

HOUSTON -- Paul Maholm will likely be looking for his favorite pregame eating place, Moe's, for a burrito on Saturday.

It will be the Cubs left-hander's first start against his former team, the Pirates. He grew up with the team after being selected in the first round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. Saturday also is fireworks night at PNC Park, too, so Maholm is expecting a big crowd.

"The fireworks are for me, obviously," Maholm said.

He's kidding. But Maholm is looking forward to seeing friends and former teammates.

"Obviously, playing with most of the guys, they haven't faced me and I'll try to take advantage of that, and hopefully we're on a winning streak and we can turn this thing around," Maholm said.

His favorite time in Pittsburgh? It was last July when the Pirates were in first place in the National League Central.

"That stretch just shows the fans are there and waiting on a winner," Maholm said. "I'm happy here [with the Cubs] and looking forward to beating them this weekend."

Wood's finale was an unscripted success

HOUSTON -- It seemed as if Kerry Wood's final appearance was perfectly scripted, but Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk said the right-hander almost went longer in the game rather than the drama of striking out one batter and exiting.

Kerry Wood
Kerry Wood calls it a career

Quirk, Cubs manager Dale Sveum and the other Cubs coaches had talked about Wood's request to have one more appearance before retiring. They weren't sure exactly when it would happen. What complicated things a little was that Sveum was ejected in the fifth, which meant the final decision was up to Quirk.

"We knew we wanted to get him in -- we didn't know it would be that day, that weekend," Quirk said on Wednesday. "It was emotional, even for me, and I've only been around Kerry for three months. I was literally thinking he would pitch to the two right-handers [Dayan Viciedo and Alex Rios]. [Wood] was due up sixth [in the Cubs' eighth].

"The worst case scenario is he would pitch to the two right-handers, and I told [pitching coach Chris Bosio] if we don't get to his spot, I can send him back out and then we can go get him and he can get his ovation," Quirk said.

Wood struck out Viciedo on three pitches and Rios had poor numbers against left-handed pitchers, so Quirk decided to pull Wood at that point and called on left-hander James Russell.

"What better time? He just struck him out, we still had a ballgame," Quirk said. "I knew I wasn't hurting our chances to win to bring in Russell to face the right-hander because the right-hander didn't hit lefties well. I wasn't putting the game in jeopardy. If it was in jeopardy, I would've had [Wood] face the right-hander. It was just right to do it at that time."

Sveum admitted after the game he was upset that he had been ejected and didn't get to hand the ball to Wood.

"It was fun to be the guy," Quirk said. "I wish I would've done one thing and that is, when I went to take him out, he handed me the ball. We got the ball for him. I wish I would've [said] 'Here, take the ball in.'"

Wood, 34, decided to retire after 14 seasons. He was met at the top of the dugout steps at Wrigley Field by his son Justin for a fitting end.

"I always say, good players retire and the rest of us go away," Quirk said. "He's one of those players who get to retire."

Extra bases

• Carlos Marmol, rehabbing from a strained right hamstring, threw a simulated game on Wednesday in Des Moines with Triple-A Iowa. If all goes well, he could pitch in a Minor League game on Friday. Marmol has been sidelined since May 12.

• Catcher Steve Clevenger, on the DL with a right oblique strain, started at catcher on Wednesday for Iowa and went 0-for-2. He could be activated as early as Monday.

• Reliever Blake Parker, bothered by a tight right hamstring, was able to throw on Wednesday, but most likely would not be used in a game until Friday.

• Bench coach Jamie Quirk was the acting manager on Wednesday so Dale Sveum could attend his son Rustin's high school graduation in Scottsdale, Ariz. Sveum and Quirk had planned the lineup in advance of the series, so no changes.

• Tony Campana's dive over third baseman Matt Downs in the eighth inning on Tuesday just added to the speedster's resume.

"That was one of those where you wanted to go watch the highlight -- how did he do that?" Quirk said. "That's what Campy does, he's a highlight reel. I call him the 'Ignitor.' He's going to do something."

Campana says he can dunk.

"I'd have to see it," Quirk said. "But I wouldn't put it past him."