One Game at a Time

Cubs manager Lou Piniella has been in this situation before. His Seattle Mariners were down 2 games to 0 to the New York Yankees in the first year of Division Series play in 1995, only to rally with three straight victories in the not-so dearly departed Kingdome and advance to the American League Championship Series against Cleveland.

Considering the manner in which the Cubs have played in the National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks thus far, this weekend might appear to be something a little reminiscent of Custer's Last Stand.

But Piniella knows that a repeat of rallying from a 0-2 deficit is not entirely out of the question with the Cubs in that very predicament against the Diamondbacks entering Game 3 of the series Saturday at Wrigley Field.

"It can be done," the Cubs manager said in his Friday press conference with reporters following a scheduled workout day at Wrigley Field.

The odds are not in the Cubs' favor, of course (only seven teams in major league history have rallied to win a playoff series after dropping the first two games of that series), but the odds also were not in the National League Central Division Champions' favor when they were 8.5 games out of first place at one point this season prior to the All-Star break.

To date, only four teams have rallied from 0-2 deficits to win a Division Series. Piniella's Mariners were the first to do it in ‘95, followed by the Boston Red Sox in 1999, the Yankees in 2001, and the Red Sox again in 2003.

The Cubs have a chance to become the latest team to accomplish such a feat, but Piniella knows it won't happen on Saturday.

"All we need to do is win one game at a time," Piniella said. "We don't need to win three games (Saturday), just one."

Piniella was asked if he sensed that his team was overanxious.

"This is the type of team we've been all year," Piniella said. "You can't change in the postseason what you've done all year. You do the same thing.

"If it works, it works. If it doesn't work, well, it doesn't work."

Not much has worked for the Cubs so far in this series.

Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Alfonso Soriano are a combined 4-for-27 through the series' first two games. The Cubs have stranded 18 runners on base and are a combined 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

Have the Cubs' big hitters been pressing?

"It's probably trying to overdo, trying to do too much," Piniella said. "In the postseason, you take what the opponent gives you. They don't give you pitches to swing out of the yard to, then you've got to go the other way or you've got to go up the middle.

"As you get into postseason, the teams get fewer and fewer and the pitching gets better and better. You know, so don't try to overdo. That would be my message. (If) they pitch away, hit the ball to right centerfield."

Piniella said: "Look, I know it's easier said than done because I've been in the postseason many, many times myself as a hitter. But basically that's the approach that you have to take. You know, you need to crystallize the strike zone, know the strike zone a little better. 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.

"But to the big hitters, you don't need to hit three homeruns in one at-bat. Not try to overdo, that's the biggest thing that I can think of because -- remember, these teams have been really, really scouted now for a while, so these opponents almost know your team as well as you do."

Pitching-wise, the Cubs opened up a whole new can of worms on Thursday when starter Ted Lilly allowed six runs and failed to make it out of the fourth inning.

Rich Hill (11-8, 3.92 ERA) will make the first playoff start of his big league career Saturday against postseason veteran Livan Hernandez (11-11, 4.93 ERA). The first pitch is scheduled for 5:07 p.m. (CDT) with television coverage provided by TBS.

Hill hasn't pitched since last Saturday on the day after the Cubs clinched the Central Division. He went six shutout innings, allowing only one hit in a glorified Spring Training game against the Cincinnati Reds.

The game may have been overly meaningless in the standings, but Piniella strongly believes that Hill could learn a big lesson from it.

"I told him the other day in Cincinnati when he pitched that that's as good as he can throw the ball," Piniella said of Hill. "There was no pressure. We had clinched. He went out there and relaxed and just threw the ball.

"I told him, ‘You should learn from that experience.' If he throws the ball that way here (Saturday), he'll have a lot of success."

Hill said Friday that there have been times this season when he's fought himself.

That's all part of the pitcher's learning curve, Hill said, and he'd like for his start in Game 3 to be as carefree as his most recent outing.

But the reality is that this isn't Cincinnati, and Hill will be making the most important start of the Cubs' season to date. Nevertheless, the starting point is still to not over-think things on the mound and to treat Saturday's game as just another start.

Hill intends to do just that.

"I look forward to Saturday, just going in there nice and relaxed and not thinking too much, and (knowing) it's just another game," he said.

Said Piniella, "It's only a game. It's not life or death. It's a game. It's a game where you take your skills out there and you match them up against your opponent. You relax, you have confidence in yourself, and you go out and pitch and you go out and have fun. That's what it's really about.

"And if you can do that -- and if Rich can do that, control his emotions and not fight himself, he's as capable as any of going out and really pitching a good ballgame here at Wrigley. And we're expecting one, frankly."


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