Frustrated Cubs drop sixth straight
Skipper Piniella ejected in the eighth inning
CHICAGO -- Rich Hill ran too far. Angel Pagan didn't slide far enough. And, Lou Piniella may have stepped on an umpire's toes while giving Cub fans what they've been waiting for since he was hired -- a bona fide hat-throwing argument with an umpire.
Friday's fracas between Michael Barrett and Carlos Zambrano was just a warmup act.
Hill struck out six and hit an RBI double but it wasn't enough, as rookie Yunel Escobar hit a tiebreaking RBI double in the eighth and Andruw Jones added a solo homer in the ninth to give the Atlanta Braves a 5-3 victory over the Cubs on Saturday. The loss was Chicago's sixth in a row, a season high, and was highlighted by Piniella's first ejection of the season.
The Cubs manager went nose to nose with third-base umpire Mark Wegner, kicking dirt on his shoes and booting his own cap twice.
"It's good to have a manager like that," said Chicago's Alfonso Soriano, who hit a solo homer in the fifth. "I think he does a great job. He shows the players he has frustrations, too. I like a manager like that. He makes me want to come back tomorrow and makes me want to play hard for him."
The fireworks came after Pagan doubled to lead off the eighth against Rafael Soriano and tried to get to third on a passed ball by Atlanta's Jason Saltalamacchia. The catcher recovered in time to throw Pagan out at third, although Pagan and third-base coach Mike Quade disagreed. So did Piniella who ran onto the field to argue, which brought the crowd of 40,290 to its feet and, for some reason, prompted bleacher fans to throw garbage onto the field.
"The umpire was correct," Piniella said after the game. "The guy was out. I was going to argue if he was out, safe or whatever, it didn't make a bit of difference."
"He's been calm," Pagan said of Piniella. "I thought he was going to stay that way the whole year."
But was Pagan safe or out?
"I thought I was safe," Pagan said. "I was trying to be aggressive and make something happen for the team.
"From the angle, [the umpire] only saw the left hand," he said. "If you only see the left hand, I'm out. If you see the right hand, that hand was in front of my left, so it was there first."
Crew chief Bruce Froemming said Piniella kicked Wegner.
"He made physical contact with the third-base umpire," Froemming told a pool reporter. "He made physical contact with his foot, and he kicked dirt on [Wegner] several times, and the rest was show-and-tell.
"The whole world saw what he did," Froemming said. "It was a terrible display of disrespect and [the MLB office in] New York will be called immediately, and we'll take it from there."
"Froemming said that?" Piniella said. "He's wrong. The league office can look at the film. I kicked some dirt on a guy and that was it."
Froemming pulled Piniella away from the argument.
"We were trying to get him to save him some problems," Froemming said. "And he just wouldn't stop."
Hill may have been trying too hard. The lefty gave up three runs, one earned, on four hits over seven innings. He's been working on his hitting all week after getting pulled early in his last start for a pinch-hitter. Now, he needs to work on his baserunning.
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth the Cubs trailing, 3-1, Koyie Hill singled off Braves starter Chuck James. Rich Hill then doubled to right, put his head down and tried to get to third. He slid head-first but was out on a 9-4-5 relay.
"When I was rounding second, I was overly aggressive and made a mistake and messed up," the pitcher said. "When I turned, I looked and saw the ball was at the wall and [Jeff Francoeur] was still getting to the wall. I thought I had a shot at third. I thought it would be a better than average shot at third. I'll learn from it and move on."
The run did score, and the crowd gave Hill a standing ovation. The Cubs have scuffled on the field -- and in the dugout between teammates -- and his race around the bases brought the focus back to the game.
"I've talked to him about it," Piniella said, "and told him, 'How many times have you heard don't make the third out at third base?' He'd heard it. He got caught up in the moment."
It was Hill's second career double and second RBI this year. He also drove in a run when he drew a bases-loaded walk on May 5 against Washington.
"It's fun," Hill said of his hit. "You get dirty, you get to play the game as a pitcher. But it all comes down to you've got to win. If that run cost us the game, it was stupid."
Hill also made a mental mistake in the Braves' half of the fourth. Martin Prado walked to lead off and Escobar was safe when Hill fielded Escobar's ball, then turned and tried to throw to second. The throw hit Prado. Hill should've thrown to first. Edgar Renteria hit an RBI double, another run scored on Jones' groundout, and one out later, Matt Diaz hit an RBI double to make it 3-0.
Escobar, making his Major League debut, hit a two-out RBI double in the Atlanta eighth off Will Ohman for the game-winner, and the Cubs' bullpen now is a combined 4-14. Jones connected in the ninth off Michael Wuertz.
"Everybody's trying too hard," Soriano said. "As soon as we win the first game, everybody will be fine."
The Cubs have made their share of blunders.
"We made some mistakes again," Piniella said about the game. "I'm not going to talk about that anymore."
What's left to talk about?
"Hopefully we can go out and win some baseball games," Piniella said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.