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Cubs bats wake up vs. Rockies
There was no kicking or screaming, no harsh language and no flashbacks to Knute Rockne.
Manager Lou Piniella called a team meeting late Thursday afternoon to remind his players of "some tough luck we've had" over the last week.
"I just wanted these kids to continue to believe in themselves and keep having fun," he said. "Use your God-given talents and have fun with it."
The Cubs heeded Piniella's words and broke out of their offensive slump in a big-time way, trouncing Colorado 10-2 at Coors Field.
The Cubs snapped a four-game losing streak and moved to within a half-game of idle Milwaukee in the not-so-great race between two struggling contenders.
"We're actually fortunate," Piniella said. "If we continue to play at the [.600] pace we're playing at [since June 3]—and that's really hard to do—we could be 6-8 games in front. But at the same time, we could be 8-10 games behind.
"Being where we're at, there's plenty of time. You can see what happened last year with the Cardinals. You know what? If you look at our division, basically the same thing just might happen this year."
If the Cubs win only 83 games but a World Series as well, as the '06 Cardinals did, Piniella will consider it a pretty fair trade-off.
After going 2-for-34 with runners in scoring position in losing three straight to the Astros, the Cubs offense was unstoppable on Thursday. Jacque Jones went 4-for-5 with four RBIs. Jason Kendall and Mark DeRosa had three hits apiece and everyone in the lineup but Derrek Lee and Ted Lilly had at least one hit.
"There's a good chance we won't change a thing," Piniella said of Friday's lineup.
Jones is hitting .400 (10-for-25) while batting in the No. 2 hole and raised his average to .260, the highest it has been since late May.
Asked if he likes hitting second, Jones replied: "I just like playing every day. That's what I was born to do—play baseball every day."
Lilly (13-5) threw 127 pitches in six innings, the highest pitch count of the year for a Cubs starter. Piniella said he wanted to take him out after the fifth, but reliever Kerry Wood wasn't warmed up yet.
Lilly welcomed the high pitch count, saying "I was happy to get a chance to stretch it out like that."
The Cubs also got contributions from the kids, with Matt Murton's homer, Felix Pie's two doubles and Ryan Theriot's two runs scored.
Unlike Milwaukee or Arizona, the Cubs never can be considered a Cinderella team because of their $100 million payroll.
Still, Piniella is working without two of his superstars and with a roster full of kids who aren't far removed from Triple-A Iowa.
"It's different," Piniella said. "And that's why you have to stay within yourself. You can't get caught up in this thing. You have to do what you're capable of and what the other team allows you to do, and we are young, no question.
"I told them if we get through this, we'll emerge stronger as a team."
The last time the Cubs had a team meeting, Piniella wasn't even invited. The players-only gathering of May 30 preceded a 9-0 loss to Florida, the fourth in a six-game losing streak that defined the season to that point.
But that meeting led directly to the Carlos Zambrano-Michael Barrett incident, Piniella's dirt-kicking tirade and four-game suspension and the two-month stretch of solid baseball that vaulted the Cubs into the division race.
When Piniella decided to speak to the team Thursday, it was mired in another rut.
"I don't like meetings, I've said that many times," Piniella said.
But once in a while, a pat on the back is as important as a kick in the teeth.
"I told them it's a long season and every team goes through peaks and valleys. You have to fight your way out of it, roughly," Piniella said. "We have confidence in them."