Alfonso Soriano smacked a two-run homer with one out in the ninth inning on Saturday to power the Cubs to a 6-5 come-from-behind victory over the Brewers and even the series at one win apiece.
Carlos Marmol pitched the ninth for his first save, which prompted plenty of talk. Marmol was among the players watching the game highlights on the clubhouse television along with Piniella. After the right-hander was shown striking out Prince Fielder to end the game, the TV announcers declared that Piniella had changed his closer, which prompted a laugh from the players and the skipper.
"[Kevin] Gregg is still our closer," Piniella said. "I can't get them both up [in the bullpen]. I said that the other night in Houston. I can't afford to get them both up, because I lose [both of] them. We got Marmol up just in case we tied or went ahead, and that was the end of it.
"I said when the season started there will be opportunities for both of them, but believe me, tomorrow, if we get into a similar situation, Gregg will be the closer."
"They called down there and told me to be ready, tie game or if we take the lead," Marmol said. "The more important thing is, when they give you the ball, you get the out."
The game was tied, 3-3, after six innings. Kosuke Fukudome, hitting the way he did at the start of last season, helped with a leadoff homer in the fourth and an RBI double in the sixth. With the bases loaded in the seventh, Soriano accounted for the tying run when he beat a throw to first on a potential double-play ball.
"I knew that was an important run," Soriano said.
"He hustled down the line and beat that double-play ground ball," Piniella said. "We've been scuffling. We've been playing a lot of tight ballgames. Competition's good."
Now if he could just fix the walks. Angel Guzman walked Corey Hart and Ryan Braun in the Milwaukee seventh, and Neal Cotts was called on to face Fielder, who had homered off starter Carlos Zambrano in the third. But the lefty walked Fielder to load the bases. That's not what Piniella wanted, and he sent pitching coach Larry Rothschild out to get Cotts. J.J. Hardy greeted Cotts' replacement, Aaron Heilman, with a single to center, driving in two.
"I sent Larry out there to take the last pitcher out to change the karma a little," Piniella said. "My handoff wasn't good. We were fumbling. I said, 'Larry, go change the karma.'
"He might have a better message -- who knows?" Piniella added. "It was just to change the karma around."
It worked. Aramis Ramirez moved into 10th place on the Cubs' all-time home run list with a solo shot with two outs in the eighth to close the gap to 5-4. He now has 175 with the Cubs.
With one out in the Chicago ninth, pinch-hitter Reed Johnson singled against Carlos Villanueva (1-1), then was lifted for pinch-runner Joey Gathright. The move was to make the pitcher have one more thing to think about -- Gathright's speed. As it turns out, Johnson could have trotted home easily, as Soriano launched his third homer off the first pitch he saw.
"I just tried to put the ball in play, just swing at strikes," Soriano said. "When I swing at strikes, I hit the ball very hard."
The Cubs fans in the crowd of 43,768 knew that it was gone. So did the Brewers fans.
"There was no doubt about it," Soriano said. "The only other chance was a foul ball. I made a very good swing and made very good contact."
Miller Park has been like a second home to Zambrano, who was unbeaten in his last four starts on the Brewers' turf, including his no-hitter on Sept. 14 against Houston. He did not get a decision and was pulled after throwing 118 pitches, including the one that Fielder launched over the right-field fence with one on and two outs. The two runs were the first off Zambrano in his last 20 innings at Miller Park.
"I felt good today," Zambrano said. "Early on, I was behind in the count, and I think my delivery was too rushed to the plate. That's what happens when you try to be too perfect. I knew how to come back and battle out there and give my team a chance to win the ballgame."
"If Carlos keeps pitching like this, he'll win a lot of ballgames this year," Piniella said. "He's really focused. We've just got to find a way to throw some strikes there in the seventh inning, in particular."
He can only hope for better karma.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.