No doubt about it, the Cubs’ players lost their series with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Manager Lou Piniella’s strategic moves were all sensible and defensible. The players played like crap, and the Cubs got swept. To quote Rocky Bridges: “I managed good, but boy did they play bad.”
Yet is it so simple, and so blameless for Piniella? Two years in a row his team arrived too tight for the playoffs — much too tight this year — and got swept. That’s partly Piniella’s fault. And I’ve got to say, even as a self-interested member of the media, I found the Cubs’ behavior on and off the field disgusting Saturday night, when it took Piniella an hour to address the media after the final out, and not at the usual interview-room podium. In fact, rookie catcher Geovany Soto, the Cubs’ heir apparent as captain, took a rare leadership role where the media are concerned and was the first to address reporters. Meanwhile, Piniella basically threw his players under a bus.
Now, the Sox thus far have only gotten one game further than the Cubs, but it sure was a pleasure to see a Chicago baseball team win a playoff game and win it well on Sunday, when they extended their first-round series with the Tampa Bay Rays with a 5-3 win to make the series 2-1 Rays. They had some two-out runs batted in, alert baserunning, keen pitching, and solid defense — in short, all the things the Cubs were missing. Is it any coincidence that manager Ozzie Guillen has placed much less pressure on his team (Javier Vazquez excepted, and rightully so)? In the midst of the Sox’ “play-in” game with the Minnesota Twins last week, Guillen was being pelted with sunflower seeds in his midgame interviews with TBS commentators, and pitching coach Don Cooper got the same treatment Sunday. That has to contribute to keeping a team loose in the naturally demanding pressure cooker that is the playoffs. Of course, not to rub it in any further for the Cubs, it helps that the Sox can still rest on their world championship of three years ago.
Does it make Guillen feel better to be the last Chicago team standing? “Not really,” he said after Sunday’s game. “It feels good because I won one game and didn’t get swept. I don’t care about the Cubs. I have feeling for those guys. I know the situation they’re in.
“I sent a message to (Carlos) Zambrano,” he added. “I said, ‘Keep your head up.’ I cannot say what I said to him, but ‘Keep your head up, and you did what you’re supposed to do, you guys just came up short.'”
Would that Piniella had said the same at some point to his team.