Notes: Field tested, and approved
Piniella encourages his hitters; Ward reveals secret source
CHICAGO -- Wrigley Field's outfield grass passed all the tests during batting practice on Saturday, and Chicago's Matt Murton said there should be fewer strange hops.
"They resodded the whole thing, and it's playing a lot more true," Murton said prior to Game 3 of the National League Division Series. "A lot of the spots that were dried out and had a lot of thickness to it, now the thickness is back in the grass, which gives us a better chance. I think you'll see a lot more true plays."
Murton watched balls hit during batting practice and noticed a difference immediately.
"You could see more with the way the ball hit the outfield grass and how it was taking off," Murton said. "Before it would hit the grass and explode or skip off the grass or take a funny hop. I'm not saying there won't be more hops. You still have to concentrate and play the right way, but I think the grass being thicker will help.
"You're going to have to be aware and charge that much harder, but also stay down on a ground ball, because when a ball slows down it's easy to come up."
The grounds crew began the transformation on Sept. 25, and replaced all of the sod in the outfield.
"It's amazing," Murton said. "They did a tremendous job. It's come together well. You don't see a lot of patches or lines in the grass. It'll be a lot more favorable playing surface than it was before we left."
Cubs manager Lou Piniella checked the field out as well.
"There's not as much wiggle on the ball as it goes to the outfield," Piniella said. "They did a nice job with it."
Pep talk: Piniella talked to a few of the players before the game, and delivered the same message.
"I said, 'Let's put together a nice three-game winning streak, and let's start today,'" Piniella said.
The Cubs' longest winning streak this season has been seven games, June 22-29.
"Everybody knows the situation," Piniella said about the Cubs facing elimination against the Arizona Diamondbacks. "It starts with one win, tomorrow with another, and going back to Arizona and putting together, stringing together three good games. We're very capable of it. We'll see if we can do that."
Cold spell: The Cubs are batting .179 after two games in the NLDS, but Piniella said the team can't change its approach now.
"We've been an aggressive-swinging team," he said. "We've been a team that really, really hit the ball well at times and really pitched well. We've been a team that has had trouble scoring runs at times.
"The last time we were home, we swung the bats as well as we have all year. Hopefully, there's a carryover for us here, because we're certainly very capable of putting together a nice string of games and putting runs on the board."
During the Cubs' last homestand, they outscored Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, 42-27, and hit 14 home runs in six games.
"We just have to go out there and see what happens," Piniella said.
Fatherly advice: Daryle Ward has a secret source of information during the postseason. His father, Gary Ward, a former big league player and hitting coach, has been watching video tape of the pitchers the Cubs are facing in the NLDS.
"It gives him something to do," Daryle joked.
Ward has one hit in one at-bat, a pinch-hit two-run double. Yes, he listened to his dad.
"He's always right," Ward said.
Quote of the day: "I think everybody's excited. We're back home, we have the energy of our ballpark. Every series in the [Division Series] is 2-0. You sit back and say somebody's got to do it. We're going to take it one day at a time." -- Murton, on the Cubs' feelings prior to a must-win Game 3
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Extra bases: Jason Kendall was behind the plate Saturday because the Cubs wanted a more experienced catcher with Rich Hill on the mound. ... Mr. Cub Ernie Banks threw out the first pitch for Game 3, while former Cubs third baseman and WGN Radio analyst Ron Santo was to sing during the seventh-inning stretch. ... Would Piniella like to see the shortened, best-of-five format for the Division Series extended to a best-of-seven? "Well, if we were up 2-0, I'd say 'No,'" he said. ... Since Wild Card play began in 1995, 27 teams have held a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five League Division Series, which doesn't include the D-backs or Rockies this year. Of those 27, only four went on to lose. The list includes the 1995 Yankees, '99 Indians, '01 Athletics and '03 Athletics. ... Seven teams have blown 2-0 leads in the 84 five-game playoff series since they were introduced along with division play in 1969. ... Ted Lilly would start Game 5, if necessary. The series would shift back to Arizona for the deciding game. ... Piniella spent part of his pregame watching horse racing on the television. ... Before Cliff Floyd stepped into the batter's box, he wrote "C.C." in the dirt for his father, Cornelius Clifford Floyd, who passed away earlier this season. "I know he's here with us, and I know he's watching these playoff games," Floyd said. "I just wanted to give a little shout out."
On deck: Game 4, if necessary, will be played Sunday at Wrigley Field. Carlos Zambrano (0-0, 1.50 ERA) would be making his second NLDS start. Arizona's Micah Owings would be making his first. First pitch is scheduled for 12:07 p.m. CT, and the game will be broadcast on TBS and WGN Radio.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.