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Lilly hopes for better fortune in rematch

Lilly hopes for better luck in rematch

PHOENIX -- When Ted Lilly warms up for his starts at Wrigley Field, the Cubs left-hander does a warmup trot in front of the bleachers and is cheered by the fans. He'll probably hear more of the same Thursday when he takes the field for Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

This is Lilly's first season in Chicago, and he's been surprised by the fans on the road who support the Cubs.

"I was amazed by what I saw in Cincinnati, and I know that's relatively close, but there was a huge following," Lilly said of the final regular-season weekend series in which Cubs fans clearly outnumbered those wearing red.

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"Probably throughout the country, there is a lot of support for this club, and there's a lot of people who would like to see us have success in the postseason, and we'd certainly like to make them happy," he said.

Something else about the start will be familiar, as well -- Lilly will be starting after a Cubs loss. In more than half his starts this year (18 out of 34), Lilly pitched the day after his club was defeated. Much more often than not, he turned things around. Chicago went 13-5 in those 18 games, and Lilly's personal record was an exemplary 9-1.

And despite losing with their ace, Carlos Zambrano, on the mound in Wednesday's Game 1, nobody on the visiting team is hanging heads. They know they've got Lilly, and they know they can hit better than they hit on Wednesday.

"This is only the first game," manager Lou Piniella said on Wednesday night. "There's a lot of baseball to be played in this series, OK? It's not gloom and doom, this thing. Let's just keep positive, keep playing and go out and win a ballgame."

This will be a rematch of the Cubs-Diamondbacks game on Aug. 25, when Doug Davis outdueled Lilly in Phoenix. In that game, a 3-1 Arizona win, Lilly gave up two runs on four hits over six innings while striking out eight. One of those hits was a two-run homer by Conor Jackson.

"Two runs in six innings -- I'll take that every time," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said after the game.

Lilly, 31, has done three things the Cubs needed this year -- eat up innings, produce quality starts and be a stopper. He totaled 20 quality starts in 34 outings, and was 9-1 with a 3.71 ERA in 17 starts after a Cubs loss.

He also finished his first season in Chicago ranked among the NL leaders in fewest walks per nine innings and opponents' batting average against (.236). The only downside was that he served up 28 home runs.

His final regular-season start was Sunday against Cincinnati, and Lilly threw two perfect innings. He didn't last long enough to pick up his 16th win. The 15 he notched ties a career high and were the most by a Cubs left-hander since Greg Hibbard won 15 in 1993. Lilly did set personal bests with 207 innings and 174 strikeouts.

The lefty won seven in a row from June 15-July 25, and posted a 2.77 ERA in that stretch. He was 5-1 with a 2.52 ERA in July.

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Pitching in the postseason with the Cubs doesn't surprise Lilly. This is what he was looking for when he signed with the team in December 2006.

"I guess I feel like I'm lucky to be in this situation, to be able to be here and have an opportunity to start an important game for the franchise," Lilly said. "I mean, this is all you ask for going into the offseason last year. One of the most important things was to have the opportunity to play in October."

Remember what Cubs general manager Jim Hendry was doing when Lilly signed? Lilly sealed his four-year, $40 million deal with the Cubs while Hendry was undergoing an EKG at an Orlando, Fla., hospital in December. It was during the Winter Meetings, and Piniella had taken Hendry to the hospital because he was feeling ill.

Lilly may not have much experience against the Diamondbacks -- he's faced them in four games, a total of 16 innings -- but he doesn't need it. He keeps the same approach.

"This is a game of adjustments," Lilly said. "For me, personally, what tomorrow is going to bring, I'm not exactly sure, but I'm going to have to be prepared to try and do whatever is necessary to win the game."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. Matthew Leach contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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