Notes: Outfield grass redone for Game 3
Piniella has comeback experience; preaching patience at plate
CHICAGO -- When the Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks resume their National League Division Series with Game 3 at Wrigley Field on Saturday, they will be playing on almost completely new outfield grass.
"We did some sodding and got the field in the best possible shape for a playoff game," head groundskeeper Roger Baird said Friday. "There was a fair amount of sod brought in, thick cut, and it took us about three days to do it. We decided to put mostly a whole new outfield in."
The outfield grass at Wrigley was criticized by opposing teams in the last few weeks of the season for being unsafe for outfielders to play on. The field had burnt patches of grass, which were predominantly in center field, resulting from two concerts by The Police in early July.
"They must have had a monster-truck rally out there," Cincinnati outfielder Adam Dunn said after the Reds series in mid-September.
Former Pirates manager Jim Tracy expressed similar opinions after Pittsburgh's 13-8 loss in Chicago on Sept. 21. "The outfield is horrendous to play on -- the worst I've ever seen," he said. "It's not a Major League-caliber outfield. It's really bad."
Baird did not want to answer questions about the criticism.
"We work year round," Baird said. "We work hard every day. I've said for years, I think I've got one of the best crews in baseball. They give it their all. They care for their job -- it's not just a job, we love what we do."
This is Baird's 25th season with the Cubs, and 12th as head groundskeeper. This is not the first time he has had to conduct a mass overhaul of the outfield during the season, and although there are a few brown patches in left and right, Baird insisted that the field will be fine.
"We've had it where we've gotten hit with a disease, or you run into problems, and you have to repair it during the course of the season," Baird said. "We had outfield areas that we replaced.
"It's ready to play baseball on."
Down, but not out: No National League team in a Division Series has ever climbed out of the 0-2 deficit the Cubs find themselves in, and since the advent of the Wild Card in 1995, only four American League teams have won three straight to claim the best-of-five series. One of those teams was the 1995 Seattle Mariners, led by current Cubs manager Lou Piniella.
"Well, the Yankees beat us in New York the first two ballgames, and we beat New York three times in Seattle," Piniella said Friday. "It can be done. But again, you can't look past tomorrow's game. Tomorrow's game is the one you need to win. It would be nice to win three games in one day, but it's not going to happen."
Rich Hill will make his first career playoff start Saturday, and, like Piniella, is approaching the potential season-ending game like any other contest.
"I think the whole thing is just going out there and being relaxed," Hill said, "and just taking the pressure off of ourselves."
One advantage is that the Cubs will be playing back at Wrigley Field, in front of a raucous home crowd.
"I said [Thursday] that we're in a good position here coming home," Hill said. "We get to play in front of a great crowd, some of the best fans in baseball. "We're down 0-2, but we have a great advantage going into this series right here in these next two games.
"You've got to look at it from a positive standpoint, not, 'Oh, we're down 0-2.' Our backs are up against the wall, but we're home and we have a very good advantage."
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Patience at the plate: The Cubs offense put up five total runs in the series' first two games in Arizona, with sluggers Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez combining to go 4-for-27.
"We have guys that go up there and swing the bat and they're aggressive," Piniella said. "And like I say, when they're connecting, well, we put runs up on the board and we win with consistency. And when we don't, it's a struggle. So let's hope that we're connecting over here starting [Saturday]."
The Cubs struck out 23 times in 67 at-bats in Arizona, many times on offspeed pitches out of the strike zone.
"You need to crystallize the strike zone, know the strike zone a little better," Piniella said. "These pitchers will entice you. They'll expand the zone on you if they can. But that's why these teams are here, because they have those capabilities."
Quote of the day: "You don't change your approach or the way you're going to pitch. All of a sudden I'm not going to become Sandy Koufax, and Nolan Ryan is not going to show up and start pitching the game for me. It's going to be the same guy that's been going out there all season long." -- Hill, on how much more preparation he has put into Saturday's start
Extra bases: Piniella said Jason Kendall will be the Cubs starting catcher Saturday, rather than rookie Geovany Soto, who started behind the plate in Games 1 and 2. Soto has never faced Diamondbacks starting pitcher Livan Hernandez, while Kendall is batting .355 (11-for-31) against the right-hander. ... With Hill's start Saturday, he and Game 2 starter Ted Lilly will become only the second left-handed tandem to start in the same postseason for the Cubs. In 1918, southpaws Hippo Vaughn and Lefty Tyler combined to start all six World Series games for the Cubs against the Boston Red Sox. ... Kerry Wood threw two innings of relief, allowing one hit while striking out one, Thursday night in his 2007 playoff debut. Wood became the 20th player in franchise history to appear in three postseasons with the Cubs, and first since Stan Hack and Phil Cavarretta in 1945. ... Dan Migala, a participant of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's membership program and lifelong Cubs fan, is looking to raise $100,000 worth of new members for the membership program in support of his participation in the New York City Marathon on Nov. 4. His goal is to raise awareness for baseball history, but he is hoping to also be running in celebration of a successful Cubs postseason.
On deck: It's do-or-die for the Cubs, who have Hill (11-8, 3.92 ERA) making his first career playoff start in the team's biggest game of the season. The Diamondbacks will counter with Hernandez (11-11, 4.93 ERA), who was named World Series MVP in 1997 as a rookie with the Florida Marlins, and is 6-2 in 10 career playoff appearances. First pitch is scheduled for 5:07 p.m. CT, and the game will be broadcast on TBS and WGN Radio.
Marc Zarefsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.