No Cub has received as little playing time as Daryle Ward, who came into Thursday night averaging one start every three weeks.
"I can't control any of that, so I try to spend the least amount of time possible focusing on that," he said before Thursday's game.
"The opportunities I get are few, so I want my mind as clear as possible when I get them. It's a mental battle, but I've been able to work through it."
"I felt like a kid in a candy store," he said of beating his former team. "I don't show it, but inside I'm really excited."
With President Bush in attendance on a muggy night, the Cubs won for the 11th time in 13 games, pulling to within 4 1/2 games of first-place Milwaukee. It's the closest they have been since April 29, and the first time they have won four straight series since May 23-June 5, 2005.
Sean Marshall threw five shutout innings before tiring in the sixth and giving up a 2-0 lead, but he bounced back after his poor performance Sunday.
"The biggest thing is the Cubs won, and overall, the outcome was good," he said.
Mike Fontenot's RBI single off Luis Ayala put the Cubs ahead in the seventh, one of three hits for the second baseman who was 0-for-11 coming in. Fontenot's "pursuit" of .400 may be a pipedream, but he chafed at the suggestion he was slumping.
"It was only a couple of games," he said. "It has been funny since I've been here. I don't get a hit in a couple of games and it's like 'What's going on?' I still felt pretty good up at the plate. Maybe a little passive at times, and today I wanted to be a little more aggressive."
Ward added a sacrifice fly in the inning, and the Cubs bullpen did the rest.
The Nationals loaded the bases off Carlos Marmol in the eighth before Brian Schneider lined out to Ward to end the threat. Bob Howry pitched a perfect ninth for his fourth save, and the Cubs won for the 21st time in their last 31 games.
Piniella inserted three reserves into his starting lineup, giving Ward, Jacque Jones and Cesar Izturis rare starting opportunities. Jones chipped in with a pair of doubles in his first start since June 20 in Texas.
If there has been one constant this season, it's that Piniella has used everyone on his roster, with the exception of Ward.
"I've always played my bench. That's really been my style as a manager," Piniella said. "As this weather turns warmer, you're going to need to play these guys a little more.
"I probably haven't been playing them enough. But we've been playing with a pretty set lineup and winning. You look at this, and when the season started we were predominantly right-handed. Now we probably need a right-hand bat."
Piniella said he was talking about "someone in our system," but not Triple-A Iowa catcher Geovany Soto. Piniella did have one concern Thursday when Cliff Floyd was removed in the sixth inning with a sore right arm. Floyd said he was OK and was going to miss most of the Pittsburgh series anyway because the Cubs are facing two left-handers.
The Cubs are 2-0 with President Bush in the house after beating Cincinnati 16-7 on Opening Day in 2006. But Piniella was ho-hum about Bush's appearance.
"I had dinner with him this winter," he said of an invitation to the White House. "That took precedent to this."
Piniella said the president paid. He quickly was corrected by reporters, who informed him the taxpayers paid.
Piniella laughed, and for once had nothing to say.