Piniella backs Gregg after shaky outing

Piniella in Gregg's corner

CHICAGO -- Lou Piniella knew Kevin Gregg was struggling in the ninth inning and didn't need to have anyone tell him, including a very vocal fan sitting near the Cubs' dugout.

Gregg entered Saturday's game between Chicago and the Astros with a four-run lead. It wasn't a save situation, and the Cubs' closer had not pitched since Tuesday. The Astros didn't go quietly, as Lance Berkman hit a leadoff homer, connecting on the first pitch, and Carlos Lee smacked the third pitch from Gregg in the inning out to left.

The Wrigley Field crowd of 40,549 was restless. Miguel Tejada then singled, and Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild went to the mound to talk to Gregg. Hunter Pence lined a single up the middle that grazed Gregg on the back of his right hand, but he stayed in the game. Gregg then hit Geoff Blum, and the bases were loaded.

Piniella finally pulled his closer, and a fan near the dugout apparently felt the move was a little late and told the manager just that.

"[The fan] wasn't very happy that I kept Gregg in the game as long as I did," Piniella said. "I told him to please enjoy the game and let me manage it -- in a little stronger words than that."

The two won't be toasting the Cubs' win together.

"I'm not going over to the 'Cubby Bear' or 'Captain Morgan's' to have a drink with him," Piniella said.

Aaron Heilman entered after Gregg left and served up Ivan Rodriguez's two-run single, which tied the game. That made everyone in the crowd, including Piniella, unhappy. But Heilman settled down to get two outs, and Sean Marshall came in to retire Berkman to end the inning. The Cubs answered in the bottom of the frame and won, 5-4, on Alfonso Soriano's walk-off single.

"I thought we had the game in pretty good shape going into the ninth," Piniella said. "It sort of got away from us a little bit. In Gregg's defense, he hasn't pitched in a few days. A closer, they have the mentality of saves and adrenaline.

"He needed the work, even if the score had been 8-0," Piniella said. "We couldn't do anything about that situation. He was going to pitch today regardless."

Gregg had given up one earned run in 7 2/3 innings over his eight outings prior to Saturday, and he had served up two home runs in 16 1/3 innings in 17 prior appearances this season. He made no excuses.

"Throw everything down the middle, I think I could've hit myself today," Gregg said. "Luckily, we had 24 guys who put together an outstanding game, starting with Randy [Wells]. It was a team effort and 24 guys picked me up."

There was a distinct red mark on Gregg's hand, courtesy of Pence's hit.

"It's not bad, and he'll be available [Sunday]," Piniella said. "If we get in a close situation, he'll be out there again."

That's all Gregg needs to hear.

"I've played this game long enough, I know we have another game tomorrow," he said. "If a save situation comes up tomorrow, I'll run out there and get the outs. That's why we play so many of them."

"You get 70, 80 appearances in a year, and I'm going to screw up a couple of them," Gregg said. "Chalk one up right there."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.