Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Too Many on Base? Expect More from Marmol

It was a sunny afternoon like that of many another daygame in the top of the ninth inning at Wrigley Field -- the Cubs holding a comfortable, two-run lead -- as closer Carlos Marmol took the mound under the satisfied gaze of manager Lou Piniella.

Piniella leaned easily against the fence in the dugout, arms hanging over the rail, when the umpire called the first pitch.

"Ball!" came the cry, Marmol flipping a sweeping breaking ball into the catcher's glove. "Ball!," came the call again. "Ball! Ball! Ball!" as Marmol successively continued to miss the plate.

By the time Piniella straightened out of his crouch, pacing back and forth now and muttering profanities, the tying run was at second base and the batter at the plate was ahead in the count. Pineilla couldn't take it anymore.

"What the (bleep) are you doing!?" the graying old man demanded to know after stomping out to the mound. Hands on hips and face to face with his 27-year-old hurler, Piniella waited for an answer, with Marmol looking down as he shuffled the dirt with his shoe.

"Throw your (bleeping) fast ball!" Piniella commanded.

Marmol nodded.

Happily for Piniella -- whose lips and body language were plainly readable to anyone sitting on the infield -- Marmol's fastball found the plate and after three quick outs and two stranded runners the Cubs headed to the locker room not only with a 'W' in the books, but with another save for Marmol, who would notch 34 before he was done.

Unhappily for Piniella, he later felt compelled to resign after it became clear that the Cubs once again had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and would fail to make the playoffs. Now pushing 70, Piniella likely will never put on a uniform again.

Ironically for Marmol, who has just signed a three-year, $20 million contract, he finished the year by cutting his walks by 20 percent, but continued to flirt with disaster by allowing well more than a baserunner per inning and pushing the limit for the perameters of a lock-down, major league closer.

Make no mistake about it. Marmol lives dangerously.

"I feel it helps him," Cubs catcher Geovanny Soto told Chicago Tribune baseball writer Paul Sullivan in today's editions. "Pitchers that have a lot of strikeouts also have a lot of walks. They're power pitchers. Marmol needs that. He doesn't really hit his spots that well, but he's consistent in the zone and he has that big breaking pitch that makes Marmol who he is."

The wildness, the walks and the baserunners all seem to be part of the plan.

"I never worry about my control," Marmol explained to Sullivan. "I worry about getting three outs before they score against me."

Try explaining that to Lou Piniella.