Commentary

Lilly's 'nightmare' outing puts Cubs in 0-2 hole

Originally Published: October 4, 2007
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

PHOENIX -- On the other hand, this time there was no second-guessing a Lou Piniella decision to take his starter out too early.

Plus, should this series go five games, the Cubs' two best starters during the regular season, Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly, should be well rested for Games 4 and 5. Of course, with Chicago down 0-2 to Arizona following Thursday's 8-4 loss to the Diamondbacks, a fifth game doesn't seem all that likely at the moment. You never know -- Cubs fans remember all too well that a two-game lead in a playoff series doesn't guarantee anything -- but Chicago's longterm future on the autumn primetime schedule looks even more dubious than that of "Frank TV."

Ted Lilly
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinTed Lilly gave up seven hits, including a three-run homer, in just 3 1/3 innings.

One loss from elimination in their NL Division Series with the Diamondbacks, the Cubs' season now depends on 27-year-old lefty Rich Hill (11-8 with a 3.92 ERA), who will start Game 3 at Wrigley Field. For what it's worth, Hill was calm, cool and nibbling an ice cream bar after the loss.

"It's going to be very exciting," Hill said. "We're in a very good position. This isn't something to look at negatively. I know that sounds strange, but you've got to think positively.

"We've been in this situation, it seems, all year. We were way behind at the start of the year, we were chasing the Brewers for first place, we were behind in a lot of games -- that's something we need to remind ourselves. Coming back, in a way, has defined us a little."

Lilly is a big reason the Cubs were able to come back from a disastrous start, winning seven decisions in a row during June and July to keep the team from sinking to Pittsburgh depths in the NL Central. Unfortunately, he gave the Cubs little chance to win Thursday with an awful performance. He needed 58 pitches to record his first six outs, blew Chicago's only lead of this series and didn't make it out of the fourth inning. He threw 79 pitches in 3 1/3 innings, six fewer than Zambrano threw in six innings in Game 1.

"That was a nightmare," Lilly said. "I don't care how many games I won in the regular season. It's the postseason that matters."

Well, Lilly can at least take comfort that he set an unofficial record for the hardest thrown glove in postseason history. That happened after he shook off catcher Geovany Soto's call for a curveball on a 3-2 count to Arizona's Chris Young in the second inning with two runners on and the Cubs leading 2-0. Because Soto is a rookie who has been in the majors all of five weeks, he deferred to the veteran. "I wanted to go with what he was comfortable with," Soto said. "He wanted to go up and in with a fastball."

Instead, Lilly threw the fastball up and in the heart of the strike zone, and Young crushed the gopher ball for a three-run homer that gave Arizona a 3-2 lead it never relinquished. Lilly reacted by ripping his glove off his right hand and slamming it to the mound with his left. "I've never seen a pitcher throw their glove like that on the mound," Piniella said.

That's probably because no one has seen a player throw his glove like that since Tanner Boyle in the original "Bad News Bears." The reaction was probably a pretty good indication that Lilly didn't have his adrenaline properly under control.

(He did, however, maintain his composure well enough to refrain from tripping Young as he rounded the bases.)

"I was showing my frustration there," said Lilly, who didn't allow an earned run in a previous postseason start in the 2003 Division Series when he was with Oakland. "It was the biggest game I've pitched in all year, and my expectations were to be a lot more effective than I was. I've got absolutely no excuses. The fact of the matter is I didn't get my job done. I guess if I want to think up some excuses I could come us with some BS.

I've got absolutely no excuses. The fact of the matter is I didn't get my job done. I guess if I want to think up some excuses I could come us with some BS. ... It's something I'll have a hard time with. I certainly want to get another opportunity.

--Cubs starter Ted Lilly

"I think I was overthrowing a little bit and the effect of that was my pitches were up in the strike zone. It's something I'll have a hard time with. I certainly want to get another opportunity."

The Cubs must win the next two games for that to happen. And to do that, they'll have to start hitting and moving runners along a whole lot better. After stranding nine runners in Wednesday's 3-1 loss, the Cubs stranded another nine Thursday. They're hitting .179 with 23 strikeouts.

Piniella was in a similar position in 1995 when he managed Seattle and the Mariners lost the first two games of their Division Series at Yankee Stadium. As no Seattle fan will ever forget, the Mariners came back to win that series by taking the next three games at the Kingdome. Due to a change in format since then, this year's Game 5 would be back here in Arizona.

"There's no question this club has what it takes -- it's just a matter of getting it done," Lilly said. "I know [the Diamondbacks] won't take it easy on us now that they have a 2-0 lead. We'll have to take it away from them."

And if they don't? Well, Cubs fans looking for a scapegoat can spend the winter blaming Piniella for taking Zambrano out after just six innings in Game 1, or Lilly for taking his team out of it in less than three innings in Game 2, or their batters for striking out repeatedly. That will probably keep them busy, but if not, well, there is always "Frank TV."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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