ST. LOUIS—After Lou Piniella challenged his players following Tuesday night's loss to go out and "kick some [butt]," pitcher Ted Lilly decided to lead the charge.
Lilly rammed into St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina while being thrown out at the plate in the second inning of Wednesday night's 4-3 victory over the Cardinals, displaying the kind of moxie that Piniella was looking for.
"He was upset with our team?" Lilly asked. "You know, he might be over 100, but he still has a lot of fire. He hasn't lost that, especially when we've lost tough games.
"That's going to [tick] him off. I certainly don't hold that against him, and I think the guys know you have to win. We have to find ways to win, however that may be."
The Cubs found a way thanks to eight innings of one-run ball from Lilly, a four-run second aided by two errors by third baseman Felipe Lopez, and Alfonso Soriano's perfect throw home that nailed Cesar Izturis in the third.
Lilly earned his 14th victory, helping the Cubs maintain their 41/2-game lead over Milwaukee and reducing their magic number to clinch a playoff spot to 10. But the Cubs had to hold their breath in the ninth when closer Kerry Wood gave up a two-run homer to Ryan Ludwick to chop a 4-1 edge to a single run before prevailing.
Still, the play of the game occurred in the second, and the Lilly-Molina collision will go down in Cubs lore alongside Lilly's ejection in 2007 for allegedly throwing at Edgar Renteria and his alleged plunking of Yunel Escobar last month after Soriano was nearly beaned.
Molina was thrown on his back after the collision and doubled over in pain after Lilly's knee unintentionally went into Molina's groin area. Molina left the game three innings later with a bruised left thigh.
Lilly said he hoped Molina was not hurt and that he had not tried to knee the catcher.
"It's almost more dangerous if I slide," he said. "My only other option was to stand there and let him tag me. At that point in the game, if I get another run, it's useful. I don't know that I'm going to go eight innings and not give up another run. I feel like we have to do whatever we can to score more runs."
Piniella said Lilly wasn't supposed to run on the grounder by Derrek Lee, but he added it was a clean play. St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said the Cubs "play the game hard," adding "it goes both ways."
But when asked about Lilly's performance, La Russa hedged.
"I'll let the other team talk about him," he snapped. "I have no comment about him."
Whether there will be any repercussions Thursday remains to be seen. But for now, the Cubs were satisfied to get a victory after Piniella's suggestion they go out and "kick some [butt]."
"Kick some [butt]—what's wrong with that?" Piniella said. "You put the uniform on to compete and to win baseball games. That should be the intended purpose, right? That's all I mentioned. Nothing more, nothing less. … Teams that I played on that won championships, that's exactly what we did."
One victory doesn't mean the Cubs are out of their doldrums, but it was an important one after losing eight of their last nine.
"The message, basically, is the right one," Piniella said. "Like it or not like it, it's the right message. You have to play. You can't play baseball in September [this way]. When you don't play well in September, no lead is safe. I've seen a lot of big leads dissipate."