Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella is ready for the stretch run, and his players are right behind him.
After a big victory that got them a share of the NL Central lead again, the Cubs try to sustain that momentum Thursday when they wrap up a three-game series with the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
The Cubs (74-71) closed out Wednesday’s 3-2 victory with a 3-6-1 double play, with Piniella clearly excited coming out of the dugout before lining up for some exaggerated post-game high-fives and fist bumps with his players. The win, coupled with Milwaukee’s loss earlier in the day at Pittsburgh, lifted Chicago into a tie with 17 games left.
“This type of game really should get us on a roll,” Piniella said. “You have to think that the worm has turned. You’ve got to start feeling like things are going to go your way.”
“You practice those things, and don’t forget about those things,” Dempster told the Cubs’ official Web site. “A simple thing like covering first sealed the deal. It was nice to remember to get over there and be there for the throw and step on first. I didn’t know where it was—I stepped in the middle and was worried he was going to blow my ankle out.”
The Cubs won for the first time in five games at Houston.
Steve Trachsel (0-2, 10.13 ERA) makes a quick turnaround in his third start for the Cubs since being acquired from the Baltimore Orioles on Aug. 31, and hopes to avoid the problems that plagued his first two. The right-hander threw just 47 pitches and was tagged for six runs and six hits in just two innings of a 10-5 defeat at Pittsburgh on Sunday, and with Piniella setting up his rotation for Saturday’s key day-night doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals, Trachsel returns on three days’ rest.
Mark Loretta had three hits for the Astros (63-82), who were assured of their first losing season since 2000 and just their second since 1991. They also fell to 5-9 under interim manager Cecil Cooper.
Woody Williams (8-14, 4.93) will try to avoid losing a third consecutive decision and a single-season career-high 15th loss. The 41-year-old right-hander had no run support Saturday and lost after giving up three runs and five hits in six innings of a 3-1 defeat to the New York Mets.
“That’s all you can ask of Woody,” Cooper said after that start. “He kept us in the game. You can’t expect he’s going to completely shut down a lineup like that.”
Despite his overall struggles this season, Williams has been effective against the Cubs, going 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA in four starts by allowing six runs in 24 innings. He won his only home start versus Chicago, yielding only one run in six innings in a 5-2 victory Aug. 7 at Minute Maid Park.
He is 4-9 with a 4.15 ERA in 20 appearances—19 starts—lifetime against Chicago.
Houston has lost 15 of its last 22 overall.