Win puts plug in Mount Lou
Piniella's 1,800th win as manager ends ugly -- and possibly telling -- Cubs stretch
CHICAGO -- You know what Lao Tzu -- no relation to Sweet Lou -- famously said: A journey of a thousand miles begins with one comeback win over the Pirates.
Lou Piniella, not known for his philosophical leanings, summed it up more simply.
"It's a good win, let's enjoy it, and we've got Colorado coming in Monday and Tuesday," he said Sunday afternoon after the Cubs prevented a second consecutive sweep by Pittsburgh with a 4-3 comeback win, the 1,800th victory of Piniella's managerial career.
Neck and neck in a bitter race for most disappointing baseball team in the city with the White-As-A-Sheet Sox, the Cubs ended a miserable weekend on a winning note, outlasting Pittsburgh in front of 40,636 fans -- at least half of whom actually knew the Blackhawks game was on TV.
As wins go, this one wasn't easy on Piniella, who watched his team fall behind 3-0 in the second inning, trail until the bottom of the seventh and finally take the lead in the eighth.
Piniella, the beloved hothead, has been especially grouchy most of the season, suffering from a repeated bout of ICS (Irritable Cubs Syndrome), an ailment that has taken down the heartiest of men, and will likely send Piniella back to Tampa after the season.
Before Sunday's game, Piniella took offense to a question about getting little-used rookie Tyler Colvin at-bats in the bigs, as compared to the minors.
"What we need to do is win," Piniella said. "We keep talking about at-bats for people, we talk about people need to play, we talk about everything but winning baseball games. That's what the hell I want to talk about, is winning baseball games. Period. I think that's what's really important. OK?"
Piniella has every right to be upset. The Cubs (16-22) have lost their last four series: twice to Pittsburgh, one at Cincinnati and one to Florida. They entered Sunday six games back in the NL Central.
Piniella, who is being criticized for many of the Cubs' ills, is sick of the questions and sick of the results, and that isn't indicative of his age or his temperament or his so-called lack of fire. He's seen a lot of baseball, and he knows when a team isn't that good, and I think he's as disappointed as anyone that this high-priced team isn't winning enough to merit a new contract. If he even wants one. Lou-watching, I fear, will go on all season.
"Everybody's trying, nobody's going through the motions," Piniella said in a speech that got his blood boiling. "It's just a question of being more consistent with what we're doing, and once we do that we'll win more baseball games and then everybody will be happy. The media will be happy, the manager will be happy, the players will be happy, the fans will be happy, everybody will be happy. That's as simple as I can put it. And if not, we'll continue to be unhappy."
Truth be told, the local media doesn't mind a little drama. If the Cubs would have gotten swept for a second straight series by the bargain-basement Buccos, Piniella would have been met with a phalanx of cameras Monday afternoon waiting for him to erupt.
But that crisis was averted with a late-game rally. Talk about timely hitting that Piniella's family and friends will love.
The Cubs, just 3-13 when trailing after the sixth inning coming into the game, looked destined for another hard-luck loss until the seventh, trailing 3-1. But the balls bounced their way this time.
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Still, it came down to Alfonso Soriano to win it. And he continued to provide timely hitting, even if his defense is offensive.
Soriano botched two plays in the outfield in the three-run second, failing to grab a ball hit in his direction, allowing runners to advance. Lastings Milledge hit a high fastball Soriano's way and after it bounced in front of him, the outfielder approached it sideways, deflecting the ball off his glove, and in a comical move, stumbled to the ground, catching his own bobble as he fell. Two runs scored on the hit.
Soriano singled in the eighth and was stealing second when D.J. Carrasco uncorked a wild pitch that got past Ryan Doumit. Soriano took third on the heads-up play and scored on a pinch-hit single by Xavier Nady.
"It goes to show you, if you hustle you make things happen," Piniella said pointedly.
"The offense is not there," Soriano said. "We've got to make little plays like that to try and win. We win today with a stolen base and a big hit from Nady."
The defense isn't there either, as Soriano helped prove. So the Cubs need to exert themselves at the plate, and that hasn't been happening, either. The Cubs improved to 4-15 when going homerless and 5-8 in one-run games. While the Cubs have several players with high batting averages, this team has been exasperating in terms of run production. They were 1-17 when scoring less than four runs.
"The key to the win was the big hit at the big moment," Soriano said. "That's what we've got to do more often to get some wins."
Soriano, for all you haters out there, has been a beast with runners in scoring position. He hit an RBI double in the second, scoring Aramis Ramirez from second base. Soriano is hitting .409 (9-for-22) with 13 RBIs with runners in scoring position.
As a team, with runners in scoring position and two outs, the Cubs are hitting .247 with 40 hits and 32 strikeouts.
"We need everybody to get going," Piniella said. "We need to start hitting better with men on base."
The Cubs don't just need better hitting. They need better defense, better pitching, better decision-making. You name it, the Cubs only do it twice a week. But for one night at least, Piniella can be content with a win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Hey, you've got to start somewhere.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.