Cubs notebook: Piniella keeps Hill on a short leash

Jeff Vorva

With an elimination game on the line and a fresh bullpen waiting, manager Lou Piniella wasn’t going to give starter Rich Hill too long of a leash if he struggled.

Hill slogged through the first three innings of Saturday’s National League Division Series game against Arizona, allowing two runs on five hits.

When the left-hander gave up a leadoff walk to eighth-place hitter Miguel Montero and a single to pitcher Livan Hernandez, Piniella had seen enough.

The third turn of the Diamondbacks batting order was going to get a different look.

Michael Wuertz came in and almost extinguished the fire. He walked Chris Young to load the bases and struck out Stephen Drew. Wuertz then induced Eric Byrnes to hit a grounder to short for a potential double play.

Byrnes was ruled safe on a disputed call, and Montero scored to give the Diamondbacks a 3-0 lead. Conor Jackson then flew out to end the inning.

Piniella used three pitchers the rest of the way.

Carlos Marmol, who gave up two runs in the seventh inning of Game 1 on Wednesday in Phoenix and was the losing pitcher in a 3-1 setback, was on the Wrigley Field mound in the fifth inning Saturday.

He walked two batters but got out of the jam unscathed.

Piniella opted to keep Marmol in the game for the sixth inning, but that didn’t work out too well. The reliever gave up a solo homer to Byrnes to give the Diamondbacks a 4-1 lead.

During the regular season, Marmol was lights-out, posting a 1.43 ERA and allowing three homers in 69 1/3 innings. In two playoff games, his ERA is 9.00; he surrendered two homers in three innings.

Sod story

The resodding of the outfield received good reviews before the game.

“They did a nice job with it -- there’s not as much wiggle on the ball as it goes to the outfield,” Piniella said.

“Before, the ball hit the grass it exploded or took a funny hop,” outfielder Matt Murton said. “I’m not saying there aren’t going to be some bad hops out there -- you still have to play it the right way and concentrate -- but I think the grass being thicker is definitely going to help. It will be true. It might slow the ball down a little bit more.

“But what they did in two weeks was very amazing.”

During the Cubs’ last homestand of the regular season, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh players complained about the condition of the outfield, calling it dangerous and likening it to a cow pasture and monster truck rally arena.

Seven heaven?

Heading into Saturday’s play, all four division series were at 2-0. Piniella was asked if the division series should be moved to a best-of-seven format rather than its current best-of-five.

“Well, if we were up 2-0 I would say no...” Piniella said, joking. “The season is long and the postseason is long. I don’t really have the right answer for you. There are a lot of people in Major League Baseball a lot smarter than I. So let them make the decisions.

“What’s a little amazing is the first season of the postseason is all spread out and a little spread out in the second series. Then the World Series is congested into almost one week. But again, I don’t have the right answer for you.”

Let’s win three

The Cubs faced long odds in the series, but one would never know it to see Hall of Famer Ernie Banks pose with fans for pictures and chat with Jesse Jackson, former teammate Billy Williams and the media before the game.

“It’s just nice to be here, and everybody is in good spirits,” said Banks, 76, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch. “We’re at home, have a big crowd and have a fine, young pitcher going tonight. So a lot of things in our favor and we look forward to a victory.”

As far as Banks was concerned, there was nothing wrong with his former team that a return to the Friendly Confines couldn’t cure.

“At times, we’ve been hot, sometimes we’ve been cold, but we’re coming back now,” Banks said. “The team had a day off. Everybody is beginning to hit the ball and feel good about themselves because we’re at home and it’s a big advantage to be at Wrigley Field with all these wonderful fans.”

Banks admitted to some anxiety beforehand. Mr. Cub hit 512 home runs in his career but never took part in a postseason game.

“I didn’t get a chance to play in a World Series or a game like this,” Banks said. “To be around the players and see how they deal with it, it kind of makes me feel a bit nervous and jittery and scared about it. But they can handle it, and they know it. I look forward to being more relaxed when we score five runs in the first inning.”

Holy cow!

Does the world need another book on Harry Caray?

Maybe one more.

The Cubs’ late legendary announcer is remembered in yet another book that will come out this month, “Harry Caray Voice of the Fans.”

It’s written by Cubs play-by-play man Pat Hughes, who worked side-by-side with Caray, and Bruce Miles.

The book contains numerous rarely seen photos courtesy of the Caray family.

The audio CD that Hughes released last year is also included in the $21.95 pricetag.

The book will be released in stores later in the month but can now be ordered on Amazon.com.

-- Daily Southtown staff writers Paul Ladewski and Nathaniel Whalen contributed.