Carlos Zambrano was supposed to finish the game. Ryan Theriot was supposed to get the day off. Kevin Gregg blew a save and got the win. Aramis Ramirez had to leave the game because he was dizzy. And Derrek Lee was the hero again.
Lou Piniella was feeling a little woozy himself trying to sort out the events of the past 10 innings. Bottom line, Lee led off the 10th with his 21st home run to power the Cubs to a wild 9-8 victory over the Marlins in a game Gregg would rather forget.
"It was crazy," Lee said. "It was probably the longest nine-inning game I've been a part of. It was crazy. We scored early, couldn't tack on, they did a good job coming back and it was just back and forth at the end."
Let's start with Zambrano.
"Zambrano said his back was stiff, so we had to get him out of the game," Piniella said.
The Cubs starter lasted three innings and threw just 62 pitches. Piniella had gone to the mound to talk to him when the Marlins had one on and two outs in the third, but the pitcher finished the inning. Zambrano also hit Hanley Ramirez on the left knee in the third, and the Marlins' shortstop had to leave the game with a contusion.
"It's nothing to worry about," Zambrano said of his back. "It's just a tight back and I have to treat it and be ready for my next start."
The right-hander said he was feeling some discomfort the whole game.
"As the game was going, I was feeling worse and worse and saw my arm dropping a lot," Zambrano said. "Lou told me something that was right -- he said before you get injured because of your back, let's take you out of the game. I knew my release point was very low. It was the best choice to take me out of the game."
Piniella heard about the problem in the second, and saw how Zambrano was throwing only with his upper body, and not getting any torque into his delivery. That can often cause arm problems, and the Cubs don't need that.
"It's not serious, it shouldn't be," Piniella said. "We might need him in the bullpen for a couple innings in Cincinnati the way we're going."
The Cubs opened a 6-0 lead, aided by a two-run double in the first by Ramirez and a two-run single in the second by Lee. But the Marlins slowly erased that and closed the score to 6-5.
Carlos Marmol, who took the loss Friday, created a mess when he loaded the bases with one out in the Marlins' eighth. Of his first 17 pitches, only three were for strikes. But Dan Uggla was called out on strikes, and Marmol got Jeremy Hermida swinging to end the inning.
"I don't know how Marmol got out of the eighth, but he did," Piniella said.
The other key hit was delivered by Theriot, who did not start because Piniella wanted to give him a day off. He smacked a two-run triple with two outs in the ninth to make it 8-5.
Enter Gregg, pitching in Florida for the first time since he was traded to the Cubs. He struck out the first two batters in the ninth. Two outs, two strikes on pinch-hitter Ronny Paulino, and Piniella said he was "really feeling good" at that point.
"That was my mistake," he said. "Then they tie the ballgame."
Paulino homered to trim the Cub's lead to 8-6. Chris Coghlan and Nick Johnson both singled, and both scored on Emilio Bonifacio's triple over center fielder Kosuke Fukudome to tie the game.
In the Chicago 10th, Lee led off launching a 2-0 pitch from Leo Nunez (3-4) to help the Cubs keep pace with the St. Louis Cardinals, who beat the Houston Astros to maintain a half-game lead in the National League Central. And Piniella could relax. Sort of.
Ramirez was hit by a pitch on his left arm after Lee's homer. He stayed in, and advanced on a sacrifice but then walked toward the Cubs dugout and had to be helped off the field by the Cubs athletic trainers.
"He got hit pretty good and I think he was getting dizzy," Lee said. "Hopefully, he's all right tomorrow."
"He's OK," Piniella said of Ramirez, who missed two months because of a dislocated left shoulder. "We'll see how he feels [Sunday]. It hit him in the meat portion of his arm."
When the Cubs took the field in the 10th, they had run out of infielders, and Alfonso Soriano was moved from left to second and Jeff Baker switched to third. The first out was a grounder to Baker. No problem. Then, Soriano and Baker switched places for left-handed hitting Hermida, whom Aaron Heilman struck out. They two switched back for Cody Ross, a right-handed hitter.
"We had Soriano at second base, Soriano at third," Piniella said. "If somebody is watching this game on the Internet or they see the box score, they're going to think the manager got drunk during the game moving people around ... It's a win, it's in the win column, and we'll go from there."
"It feels very confusing," Soriano said about playing third. "When I play left field, I see everything from far away. At third, I see everything close, and I don't feel comfortable. Thank God, nobody hit me a ground ball. I didn't feel comfortable."
The Cubs now have begun the month of August either within a game of first or in first place for three straight years. It's the first time the team has done that in more than 70 years as they also did so in 1935 (second place), 1936 (first) and 1937 (first).
But it hasn't been easy.
"I guess Gregg won the game," Piniella said, still trying to sort things out.
It lasted 4 hours, 11 minutes and was capped by a concert by the Village People.
"I thought, 'Well, I can go enjoy a nice pina colada after the game,'" Piniella said. "I can still enjoy one, but I don't feel like it now."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.