Imagine the consternation in the Milwaukee clubhouse Thursday when word got around that the Cubs were starting a bunch of backups and call-ups in their game against the New York Mets.
Micah who? Koyie who?
Were the Cubs trying to give the Mets a leg up on the Brewers in the wild-card playoff race, trotting out a makeshift lineup in a game with postseason implications?
"If we were playing non-contending teams, nobody would be saying a word," manager Lou Piniella said. "What's the sense of trying to take care of everybody else? Take care of yourself too."
Piniella rested Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez on the same night Mark DeRosa and Geovany Soto were nursing minor injuries. As it turned out, the Cubs' scrubs did their part on a rain-soaked night in their final regular-season game at Shea Stadium, led by Micah Hoffpauir, who went 5-for-5 with two home runs and five RBIs.
But it was the middle-relief corps that did the Cubs in, blowing a three-run lead for Rich Harden in a 7-6 loss.
"We're also looking for somebody to step up," Piniella said. "We're getting [Chad] Gaudin work to see if he's ready. We have to answer some questions in about three days, and I guess we won't know the final answers until we find out who our [playoff] opponent is."
Gaudin, Neal Cotts and Bob Howry coughed up a 6-3 lead in the seventh and eighth innings before Kevin Hart gave up a game-winning two-out RBI single to Carlos Beltran in the ninth. The Cubs' bullpen has been their Achilles' heel in September, sporting a 5.89 ERA for the month.
The Mets moved within one game of Philadelphia in the National League East and are tied with Milwaukee in the wild-card race.
Hoffpauir put himself in good position for a postseason roster spot with his career-best night.
"He's not hurting himself at all," Piniella said.
Hoffpauir's second homer, a three-run shot off Ricardo Rincon, snapped a 3-3 tie in the seventh. But Gaudin was nicked for a run in the bottom of the inning, and Howry allowed two inherited runners to score in the eighth.
Harden was effective but wild, allowing two earned runs on two hits and five walks over six innings. He was satisfied with his performance, although Piniella described it only as "OK."
Before the game, Piniella was unapologetic about the lack of regulars in his lineup. He did what was best for the Cubs by resting his starters.
"I think all these teams in contention, knowing we've clinched and came in here to New York and won two out of [the first] three, I think everybody would be very happy prior to the series," he said.
Could Piniella return the favor to the Mets and rest his regulars against Milwaukee this weekend?
"We have two days off, Monday and Tuesday, so we have to play our regulars," he said. "I don't want them sitting for four or five days. But today was a day to rest people and maybe even [Friday] because we're getting in at 2 or 3 a.m."