Mike Nadel's column from Saturday's Cubs-Sox game at U.S. Cellular Field
Lou squeezes, Ozzie freezes. Cubs rule, White Sox drool. See how easy it is to capture the essence of a ballgame in just a few words? When the runner breaks from third base and the batter puts down a bunt and the fielder only can watch helplessly as the runner scores, hardcore fans get downright giddy. “That’s baseball!’’ they shout. I don’t think I’m going too far saying many fans love a successful suicide squeeze — especially in the ninth inning of a tie game — more than they love their own mothers. To them, the way the Cubs earned their 2-1 victory Saturday was more than confirmation that the Cubbies are headed in the right direction while the Sox won’t stop sinking until they reach the Midwest League basement; it also was confirmation that Lou Piniella is twice the manager Ozzie Guillen is. Asked if he had suspected Piniella would instruct Ryan Theriot to bunt with Angel Pagan on third base, Guillen, voice dripping with sarcasm (and broken English), responded: “Yes, I had the feeling. He’s over-managing me, just in case you guys want to hear that. ‘Louie Over-manage Ozzie’ . . . that will be the headline. Please.’’ Over-manage . . . out-manage . . . whatever. At the very least, Lou certainly out-OzzieBalled his counterpart. “There are two dangers when you squeeze,’’ Piniella said. “One, they pitch out; two, you pop the darn thing up. I was concerned a little bit about the pitchout on the first pitch." So he didn’t put the squeeze on immediately, and Theriot grounded Bobby Jenks’ first offering foul. Had the ball been hit to third base for an out, Piniella wouldn’t have had a chance to be a genius on the very next pitch. “I really don’t like the squeeze much,’’ Lou said, no doubt eliciting pained gasps from squeeze-lovers everywhere. “We’ve used it twice this year effectively, but I would prefer to see the hitter drive the ball. But we’ve been struggling and Theriot’s been struggling some.’’ Indeed, given that Theriot hasn’t had a hit in a week, Guillen probably should have expected something tricky and called for the pitchout. Ozzie didn’t, the Cubs scored and, naturally, the impotent Sox went out feebly in their ninth to lose for the 21st time in 26 games. Both Piniella and Guillen managed their keisters off all day. Ozzie used three relievers to keep the game tied in the eighth and Lou coaxed 3 2/3 innings of scoreless ball out of his bullpen even though closer Ryan Dempster was injured. It was in the top of the ninth, however, where Piniella’s every move was magical. After Cliff Floyd bounced a single up the middle with one out, Piniella used the speedy Pagan as a pinch-runner. Daryle Ward was sent up to pinch-hit and Pagan raced to third on his single. Then came the squeeze bunt by Theriot, who was in the game only because ailing Mark DeRosa was a late scratch. Observers were reminded of the 2000 American League playoffs, when Seattle — then managed by Piniella — used Carlos Guillen’s squeeze to clinched its first-round sweep of Jerry Manuel’s White Sox. There was little doubt Piniella had out-managed Manuel all series. I’m not quite ready to declare Lou’s superiority to Ozzie. Not with each guy sporting one World Series ring — Guillen’s having been earned 15 years more recently — and not with Piniella’s Cubs having spent most of this season’s first three months underachieving every bit as badly as Ozzie’s Zombies. Today, the Cubs go for their first sweep ever on the South Side. Would such a feat lead to the long stretch of outstanding play for which Piniella has pined? We’ll see. These Cubs have fooled Piniella (and me) several times already in 2007. Dempster’s strained left oblique could prove troublesome because the first rule of baseball is that Cubs pitchers never heal. The team has plenty of other problems, too. Then again, Alfonso Soriano is getting on the kind of roll the Cubs envisioned when they threw $136 million at him, Aramis Ramirez is healthy again, Felix Pie catches everything, Carlos Zambrano has returned to his studly ways, Derrek Lee is batting .352 and, well, hope is what Cubbieland does best. So who am I to be a spoilsport? Besides, the Cubs have Lou Piniella. Even if he doesn’t particularly like suicide squeezes, he can over-manage anybody, right? Mike Nadel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at www.thebaldesttruth.com.