Pressure shifts to Cubs in Game 2
Arizona took care of business, now Chicago forced to respond
PHOENIX -- The young Arizona Diamondbacks have demonstrated that they will not necessarily fold under the postseason pressure. That pressure has shifted, at least for the moment, to the veteran Chicago Cubs.
In the wake of Arizona's opening 3-1 victory on Wednesday night, D-backs manager Bob Melvin said that he thought there was more pressure on his team in Game 1. With home-field advantage and their ace, Brandon Webb, starting, they fully expected that they were supposed to win.
Not only did many of the D-backs get their first taste of the postseason, they made it a winning experience. So the pressure on them might be lessened.
"I think a win definitely eases it some," Melvin said.
The Cubs, conversely, are not going to be dealing with anything other than increased pressure for Game 2 on Thursday night. Not only did they leave Chase Field with a loss in the opener, manager Lou Piniella's decision to pull starter Carlos Zambrano after six innings and 85 pitches led to a festival of second-guessing.
Piniella plans to bring Zambrano back on short rest to work in Game 4 on Sunday in Wrigley Field -- hence the decision to lift him early, and turn the game over to Carlos Marmol. Marmol's work had been astonishing this year.
"His numbers are video-game numbers with the strikeouts and so forth," Melvin said.
But here Marmol gave up two runs and the cause was lost.
So it was the defeat daily double for the Cubs. They had to deal with the loss and the recriminations. Piniella was at his best when he was asked if he could be accused of looking ahead too much.
"I'm not accused of anything, sir," Piniella said. "I've got a good bullpen here, OK, and I trust my bullpen. I'm bringing back a pitcher on three days' rest on Sunday and I took a shot with my bullpen. It didn't work today. They've done it all year. I've got confidence in them. Period. End of story."
That was the somewhat brusque Lou that baseball has come to know, and in many cases, admire. A few moments later, when faced with more questions about which decisions had backfired, he became the philosophical Lou, which is also well within his range, even though this part of the Piniella persona doesn't get as much ink as the short-tempered portion.
"Listen, you guys," he said to reporters, "this is only the first game. There's a lot of baseball to be played in this series, OK? Let's not doom-and-gloom this thing.
"Let's just keep positive, keep playing and go out and win a ballgame tomorrow."
That is the only attitude that can be taken now for the Cubs. OK, they lost, but the loss was to Arizona's ace, Webb, and he can't pitch every day. They are not at elimination's doorstep. This is no time to panic, or even to acknowledge the increased pressure.
Lefty Ted Lilly will start for the Cubs, and that's generally good news. Lilly has pitched reliably and has often looked like the prize of the offseason free-agent pitching signings. He will be opposed by another left-hander, Doug Davis.
The Cubs' work against left-handers mirrors the rest of their season. It looked better later in the year. For instance, the Cubs were 2-8 against lefties from the Fourth of July to mid-August. But from mid-August to the end of the season, they went 9-5 against southpaws.
Davis has had an uneven season, which is not unusual for him. But he is fully capable of the big game. The last time he faced the Cubs, in August, he won, going seven innings, giving up just one run.
But as far as pressure goes, the shoe is on the Chicago foot now. It will be up to the more seasoned Cubs to see if they can toss this difficult defeat over their shoulders and move on to something better.
Certainly, their manager had the appropriate mantra going on Wednesday night.
"This is only the first game of the series," Piniella said. "Let's just see how this thing turns out. Let's not get down. Let's give them credit for playing a good ballgame. We'll come out and compete again tomorrow."
The young Diamondbacks were supposed to be the ones who felt the pressure of the big October spotlight. But they came out and did everything necessary for victory. Now the veterans Cubs must respond in kind, or fall behind 0-2, a spot that history says is not particularly promising.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.