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First and goal: Stay there
The more Lou Piniella tries to temper everyone's enthusiasm, the more it seems to backfire on him.
After the Cubs beat Philadelphia 5-4 Wednesday night on Brett Myers' bases-loaded wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning and moved into a first-place tie with Milwaukee, Piniella made another plea for sanity to prevail.
"You people make too much out of first place," he said. "It's the first of August."
But is it really possible to make too much out of being in first place when you were 8 1/2 games out on June 23, when you're coming off a 96-loss season, and when you haven't won a World Series in 99 years?
Winning pitching Ryan Dempster, who escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the ninth, doesn't think so.
Dempster knows how miserable Cubs fans have felt the last two years, only to find a bright light in the eye-turning turnaround of Lou's Crew.
"It's exciting and it brings energy and we feed off that energy," Dempster said. "It's more important if you're in first place at the end of the year, but at the same time, we got there.
"It's easy being the hunter, to chase somebody. It's hard being the one that's hunted. We've just got to keep playing hard and doing the things we're doing. There's a lot of confidence in here."
In a game filled with high drama, the Cubs watched Rich Hill blow a three-run lead and get yanked from the game with a 1-0 count on pitcher Jamie Moyer in the fifth, only to win it in the ninth on Myers' wildness.
The scoreboard already had shown the Brewers had lost to the New York Mets at Miller Park when Matt Murton hit a liner to short left leading off the Cubs' ninth. Jayson Werth attempted a diving catch, but the ball got away from him as Murton hustled into second with a double.
"That was the play of the game, Murton busting his butt to get out of the box," Dempster said. "It makes it a whole different ballgame. He's on second base instead of first base."
Murton advanced to third on a wild pitch before Ronny Cedeno walked and Jacque Jones, who made a great diving catch in the eighth, was issued an intentional walk to load the bases. After Myers struck out Jason Kendall on three pitches, he uncorked a wild one on an 0-1 pitch to Cliff Floyd, rocking the crowd of 40,588.
"Every game at this point is really big for us," Murton said. "The team really battled tonight. There were a lot of big two-out hits and contributions from different guys. Our bullpen did a tremendous job blanking them and putting up zero after zero after zero to give us that chance there last in the game."
Scott Eyre, Carlos Marmol, Bob Howry and Dempster combined for 4 1/3 scoreless innings, getting Hill off the hook.
"That's how you win games," Eyre said. "One guy doesn't win a baseball game. Tonight was a bullpen effort, and the team played great defense. Jacque's catch was awesome. I was jumping up and down in here like a little kid.
Still, Piniella wasn't pleased with Hill's outing, and said he may have to go with an eight-man bullpen soon.
"We've got to start getting more out of our starting pitchers," he said. "Five, six (innings), we might have to go to 13 pitchers before this thing is over. Don't think we haven't talked about it."
Piniella reiterated it was too early to get too caught up in the standings, finally conceded the fans should be allowed an opportunity to relish this wild ride.
"The fans are drinking beer during the game," he said. "It's a little different. They're excited, and they should be. "These kids are playing hard and this team has played hard and the fans enjoy this type of baseball. And they're letting our team know it and it's really good. It's good for baseball and Chicago."