ADVISORY UPDATE: Due to the pace of Thursday night's Cubs-Diamondbacks game, it is possible that it will not be over by 12:30 a.m. If the game is not over by then, another version of Mike Nadel's column will not be posted at that time - and 12:45 a.m. will be the next target time.
EDITORS: UPDATES throughout with game detail; EDITS to conform.
How many odes to Sweet Lou Piniella have been written in the last month or two? Hundreds? Thousands?
He's the inspirational leader who, as promised, brought "Cubbie Swagger" to a downtrodden organization. He's the intense competitor whose June dirt-kicking tirade sparked the Cubs after a miserable start. He's the savvy manager whose willingness to make sweeping changes turned a last-place team into a division champion.
And then, one game into the National League playoffs, Piniella was a doddering dolt who doomed the Cubs and their fanatical followers to another sad ending.
Pretty much every Chicago-based columnist -- except the one you're reading right now, the one who regularly gets called a "negative" Cubbie-hater -- ripped Piniella for removing Carlos Zambrano from a 1-1 game after six innings and 85 pitches. Carlos Marmol surrendered two quick runs, sealing the Cubs' 3-1 loss and inviting the national media to pile on Piniella, too. Most accused Lou of looking ahead to Sunday, when he plans to pitch Zambrano on short rest.
The story didn't end with Thursday's newspaper headlines, either. Less than two hours before the first pitch of Game 2, Piniella sat in the Cubs' dugout explaining himself as only Sweet Lou could have.
"We planned for him to go six innings," said Piniella, who before Wednesday's game had mentioned 100 to 110 pitches but hadn't suggested a six-inning limit for Zambrano.
"He pitched outstanding. I'm gonna ask this young man to pitch on Sunday on three days' rest. I want him leaving very positive, feeling good about himself, OK? I've got a bullpen here that's pitched extremely well all summer.
"How many people have wanted me to close with Marmol? I bring in Marmol, it's like the goat left his grave, right? Like Leo Durocher turned in his grave. I mean, for God's sake, it's only Game 1!"
Now Lou's done it. After repeatedly refusing to acknowledge the many ghosts (and goats) from the Cubs' horrific past, he brought up the curse of all curses -- not to mention Leo the Lip, the manager who oversaw the choke of all chokes.
Oh, and saying "It's only Game 1" to Cubbieland is like saying, "It's only Jesus" to the pope and his cardinals.
Through no fault of Piniella -- unless folks are claiming he should have started rookie reliever Kevin Hart instead of Ted Lilly -- Game 2 wasn't looking like much fun for those who worship at the Cubbie Shrine, either.
After Lilly gave up Chris Young's three-run homer in the second, he wheeled and threw his glove to the ground.
Moments later, Piniella was jawing with fans behind the dugout. Lou had fire in his belly (along with about 50 pounds of linguine), but he didn't have a winning pitcher on the mound; Lilly allowed six runs in 3 1/3 innings.
Piniella did score big on his toughest lineup decision Thursday, as rookie catcher Geovany Soto -- chosen to start over Jason Kendall -- homered for an early 2-0 lead.
Obviously, the previous night's big decision didn't turn out as well.
Then again, had Zambrano been left in the game and served up a seventh-inning homer, some would have ripped Piniella for staying with a "tired" pitcher and NOT going to Marmol.
Second-guessing is as old as baseball itself. We all do it. It's fun for fans. I make a living second-guessing managers -- including, quite often, Piniella. (Just not this time, because the move made perfect sense to me.)
"Look, what do writers usually do when a manager's team loses? They second-guess," Piniella said. "If we had won in nine innings, and now I had a rested pitcher for Sunday with only 85 pitches ... 'Boy, what a smart manager that guy is.'
"Come on. We all know the game. I do what I think is best for this club, OK? It didn't work last night."
As his voice rose, he was asked if he was irritated.
"I get a little animated, but I'm not irritated because I understand," Piniella said. "I've been doing this a long time, you know? And basically, it's just win, baby. We don't care how. Just win, OK? I'm doing the best I can. Believe me, I'm not gonna do anything to hurt the chances of this team winning ... purposely."
It's the not-on-purpose stuff that had so many second-guessing Wednesday -- not just his Marmol move but also his decision to let Zambrano bat in the sixth inning with the bases loaded.
That's right: Lou was getting criticized by some for leaving Zambrano in too long and by others for taking him out too early.
"You manage a ballgame for 2 1/2 hours ... and it takes you almost that long to explain what the hell you do," Piniella said. "That's the way it is. I understand it. I don't get upset about it.
But it doesn't mean that I'm gonna change what I do."
Nobody expects Lou to change what he does -- unless, of course, his moves don't work.
Then we all know what he should have done, right?
Mike Nadel (email@example.com) is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at www.thebaldesttruth.com.