Los Angeles Times

Marshall, Fontenot, Hill spark Cubs past Mariners

Tribune staff reporter

The Cubs should be media-savvy enough to know the unforgiving eye of the TV camera always is focused on their dugout, just in case something unusual happens.

"I know that," Michael Barrett said, laughing. "I don't know if Rich [Hill] knew that, but I know that, especially now. I don't think it's so much on the dugout as it is just on me."

But with Barrett on the bench Wednesday night, and no extracurricular activities going on, the Cubs were able to enjoy a controversy-free 3-2 victory over Seattle, ending the Mariners' five-game win streak.

A trio of Iowa call-ups helped fuel the victory with Sean Marshall pitching eight strong innings for his third straight victory, Mike Fontenot snapping a 1-1 tie with a two-run single off Miguel Batista in the fifth and catcher Koyie Hill knocking out a pair of hits and deftly handling Marshall.

Less than a month ago, manager Lou Piniella was considering moving Ryan Dempster into the rotation until general manager Jim Hendry insisted Marshall be called up from Iowa to fill the spot instead.

"It really was a wise decision by our front office," Piniella said. "It was their recommendation."

Dempster closed out Wednesday's victory with his 14th save, giving the Cubs their second straight victory in a one-run game.

Marshall (3-2) allowed two runs on seven hits, issuing no walks in what turned out to be his longest outing as a Cub. He has allowed two or fewer runs in all five of his starts after missing spring training with shoulder soreness. That slow start, combined with an oblique injury that sidelined him most of the second half of 2006, makes his early success in '07 that much more gratifying.

"Yeah, I'm pretty excited about tonight," he said. "The better I pitch, the more confidence I'm building up. I'll just try to do the same thing next week, the following week and, hopefully, the rest of the year and a couple of more years after that."

Marshall gave Hill credit for calling a good game, saying he only shook him off two or three times, and adding that the Mariners got hits every time that he did. Cubs pitchers have a 1.65 ERA and the team is 4-1 in the five starts with Hill behind the plate, which has earned him more starts as Piniella rests the struggling Barrett.

While the Cubs are six games below .500, Piniella pointed out St. Louis won the World Series last year despite finishing only four games above .500.

"Eighty-three wins won this division, and it won a world championship," he said. "We're [5½] games behind. Whether you're above .500 or below .500, the goal is to win the division."

At this rate, a team with a sub-.500 record could make it into the postseason for the first time in history, assuming the Milwaukee Brewers continue their swoon and the Cubs and Cardinals slog through the season in similar fashion.

While the Cubs still are waiting for their first prolonged hot streak, Piniella has grown increasingly frustrated with his role as spokesman for the team, especially after tough losses. For the second time this season, he declined Tuesday night to address the media after the 13-inning defeat to the Mariners.

"I was tired," Piniella explained. "Thirteen innings. I had a bad headache."

Piniella didn't say whether it was his team or the media that gave him the headache, but a telling comment he made to the Seattle Times suggested it might have been the latter.

"I tell you what, you get in that [interview] room after a game, and you've lost a tough ballgame, they take their damn belt off," he said.


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