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The Baltimore Sun

Sweet Lou plays his hand as Cubs win

Tribune staff reporter

So this is Life With Lou.

Difficult at times maybe, daring at others, but never dull.

The Cubs' 4-3, 10-inning victory over the Nationals on Sunday was one for the managerial books, with no position players left on the bench and Tuesday's starting pitcher headed for the bullpen.

You can question if Lou Piniella over-manages at times, but you can never underestimate his managerial ability.

"You put the people out there you feel can do it, and it's up to them," Piniella said. "Managers make decisions, but players get the job done."

The job was done—finally—Sunday by Daryle Ward, who won the game with his second hit, even though he had only 10 at-bats all season.

And by Matt Murton, no longer an everyday player, who scored the winning run after entering the game in the seventh inning.

And by Henry Blanco, who had only 15 at-bats all season and wasn't supposed to play because of a herniated disc in his neck. It was his bloop single that kept the 10th-inning rally going.

In the end, it was one of those all's-well-that-ends-well days, thankfully for Piniella.

It was the fifth straight victory for the Cubs, the seventh in their last eight games and their first of the season by one run.

"What's good is winning close ballgames," Piniella said. "Those give teams confidence. Early in the year this type of win was eluding us, and now we're finding ways to win it. They're small confidence boosters that make the team feel good about itself."

The team still isn't quite sure what to make of Life with Lou. And neither are Cubs fans.

What does one make of Sunday's game when the manager:

•Uses four relief pitchers in the seventh?

•Uses two pinch-hitters and starting pitcher Jason Marquis as a pinch-runner in the ninth?

•Uses five players total in the sixth, eighth and ninth positions in the lineup?

•Starts the game with Jacque Jones in center field, moves him to right field with one double switch and then back to center with another double switch later?

•Brings Felix Pie off the bench to play center field in the sixth inning and then takes him out in the seventh inning?

•Finishes the game with Ward in left field, where he played only four times last year, and Alfonso Soriano at second base, where he hadn't played since Oct. 1, 2005?

Remember, Soriano started this season as a first-time center fielder, then moved back to a more comfortable left field after returning from an injury.

"I asked [Soriano]," Piniella said. "I said, 'Look, what's happening here is we need an infielder.' He said, 'I can get it done.' I only asked once."

Soriano admitted he played the top of the 10th hoping that winner Ryan Dempster wouldn't throw a pitch that wound up coming back in his direction.

"I didn't feel very comfortable," Soriano said.

Soriano was almost asked to sacrifice in the ninth inning with runners on first and second and no outs, not something you normally ask a $126 million player to do.

Piniella finally decided against it and Soriano flied out to right field. He has had three sacrifice bunts in the last five years. But, with Piniella, you never know.

"I told Cliff [Floyd] that I thought he was going to have to play shortstop," Ward said.

Floyd may have tried, but an aching back limited him to a pinch-hitting appearance to lead off the ninth. He walked and was run for by Marquis, who scored the tying run on Ryan Theriot's single.

So what about Life with Lou?

"He's cool, he keeps everybody loose," Floyd said. "If you're on his team, you're going to play. It might not be the situation you're accustomed to, but you're going to play.

"I've been taking fly balls in center just in case."

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