Cubs unable to send off Piniella with win
Managerial career comes to close in lopsided loss to Braves
CHICAGO -- After 3,548 games over 23 years as a manager, Lou Piniella is headed home.
Piniella and the Cubs began this season with a 16-5 loss to the Braves on April 5, and he ended his managerial career Sunday losing by the same score to the same team. The Cubs' skipper announced July 20 that he was retiring at season's end, but he moved up the date so he can go home to Tampa, Fla. His 90-year-old mother is ill.
"I'll go home and be where I'm supposed to be," Piniella said. "I'm going to miss it, there's no question about it."
Atlanta's Bobby Cox is retiring at year's end, and the two veteran managers met at home plate one last time to exchange lineup cards and hug. Piniella then tipped his cap to the crowd of 37,518 at Wrigley Field.
"I hate to see Lou leave," Cox said. "He's just been great for the game."
Piniella wiped a few tears away once he returned to the dugout. It wasn't the first or last time.
"Today's game wasn't pretty, but I'd rather reflect on the good times I've had here," Piniella said. "Lot of good times, lot of good people. It's been a lot of fun. The pregame with Bobby Cox was special. He's been a good friend for a long time. I appreciate my four years here with the Cubs' organization. The city's special, the people here are special. I'm appreciative.
"I cried a little bit after the game," he said. "I get emotional -- I'm sorry. I'm not trying to be. This will be the last time I put on a uniform. It's been very special to me."
He broke down for a few seconds, then collected himself. The players couldn't help but shed a tear or two, too.
"That's the human factor is the man deserves a lot better than that," Cubs catcher Koyie Hill said. "Same old story [in the game] -- it's not lack of effort or anything like that. It's just the way it goes. I don't know if you could've scripted it any worse.
"He's given his life to the game," Hill said. "We all appreciate that. We appreciate the opportunity we had to play for him and we're going to miss him."
Whenever Piniella went onto the field to make a pitching change, he was greeted with chants of "Lou, Lou" from the fans. Third-base coach Mike Quade will take over as interim manager on Monday when the Cubs open a three-game series against the Nationals.
"It was nice, a nice tribute," Piniella said of the fans. "These are nice people here and great fans. I was very appreciative, very moved, very touched."
He took time during the game to look around sun-splashed Wrigley Field and beyond. It's the last time he'll be calling the shots from the dugout.
"You know what I noticed today was I noticed things around the park that I hadn't noticed before," he said. "It was a good ballgame for six or seven innings, and then it got out of hand. What are you going to do? These guys are trying and I wish them well the rest of the way."
What did he notice?
"Quite a few things, inside and outside the ballpark," he said, preferring not to reveal specifics. "I wasn't daydreaming, but I was very cognizant of the things around here. It's a good day to remember and also it's a good day to forget."
The Cubs wanted to send "Sweet Lou" off with a win. He finishes with a 316-293 record in three-plus seasons in Chicago. Piniella was the first manager in 100 years to lead the team to consecutive postseason appearances in 2007 and '08, but they went 0-6 in the playoffs. They also lost the last game of '09, which means he ended every one of his seasons with the Cubs with a loss.
"The intensity that he brings every day is at such a high level," Hill said. "There's almost a wake or funeral after every loss. You think, 'Man, he brings it every day.' That passion speaks for itself.
"He's one of the smartest people I've ever been around," Hill said. "He's an intelligent guy and definitely taught us a bunch. You see him make guys better and that's usually a sign of a good leader."
This year has been disappointing as the underachieving Cubs have failed to top .500.
"I think the 25 guys in this room appreciate everything he's done for us and know [home] is where he should be," Hill said. "We've all been playing baseball for as long as we can walk, and no matter who it is, when somebody says it's their last game, it's pretty emotional. You respect him for everything he's done in the game. It's going to be tough to see him go."
Piniella does depart as the 14th-winningest manager in Major League history with a 1,835-1,713 record.
Omar Infante, rookie Mike Minor (2-0), Jason Heyward and Derrek Lee spoiled Piniella's day. Infante and Heyward each hit two home runs, while Minor struck out 12 and Lee, playing his third game with the Braves, hit a three-run double in the eighth. Randy Wells (5-12) took the loss, and is 0-4 in five August starts.
The day had gotten off to an emotional start with Piniella's pregame speech to his players, and Wells said he and Hill talked about wanting to "leave it all on the field today." But the right-hander served up a season-high seven runs on seven hits.
"This is probably the one loss that stings the most for me this year," Wells said.
Infante led off with his fifth home run, but the Cubs tied it in their half of the first on Marlon Byrd's RBI single. Heyward gave the Braves the lead with his first homer of the game with one out in the third, but the Cubs answered on Aramis Ramirez's two-run homer -- his 19th -- with two outs in the third.
Melky Cabrera singled to lead off the Braves' fourth, stole second and reached third on an error by Hill, and one out later, Rick Ankiel walked to set up Infante's second homer, opening a 5-3 lead.
The Braves added four in the seventh, including a pair of runs on Alex Gonzalez's double, and five in the eighth as well as Heyward's second homer with one on in the ninth.
"It's not like he's retiring because it's the end -- he's got some family stuff going on," Wells said. "He was pretty emotional about why he was leaving. You feel for a guy like that -- it's your mom. On top of that, the guy's given so much to baseball you owe it to him to give everything you've got out there."
The Cubs have had to say goodbye a lot this season as Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot and Lee have all exited via trades. All thought they could help the Cubs get to the World Series.
"I don't think when you come in as an outsider that you know what you're getting into here, and it's different," Piniella said about managing the Cubs. "The people here, since I've been here, we've raised the bar and they expect us to win, which is good. The fans, they get into the game.
"It's a fun place, it really is," he said. "It's a fun place to watch a baseball game, probably the most fun place in Major League Baseball. I hope that in the very near future they can get a team here that can give people what they want."
Piniella will be watching and cheering them on.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.