Anyone who wants to criticize Piniella for putting on the hit-and-run in the ninth just because it didn't work, stop.
Those of you who are trying to replay the inning without the hit-and-run and see that Jones' grounder scores the tying run, do us all a favor: go shoot yourself, or at least stop watching baseball. The entire complexion of the Theriot AB changes with first base occupied! There is no way that the rest of the inning plays out exactly how it did if Pie and Fontenot remain on their bases.
Strikeout pitchers are strikeout pitchers because they are able to fan the average batter more often than other pitchers. Contact hitters are contact hitters because they can usually put the bat on the ball against any pitcher. What I'm trying to say is that the chances for a strikeout didn't really depend on Valverde pitching, but moreso on Kendall and his ability to put the ball in play.
Those that know me well know that I love the hit-and-run. Would I have put on the hit-and-run three times in a row? Probably not. But I really can't sit here and disagree with Piniella's decision to do it three times in a row when I was glad that he did it the first two times.
I didn't see how the Diamondbacks defended against the double steal. Regardless, what is for certain is that many holes open up on the infield and you stay out of the ground ball double play. Yes, Kendall did swing through strike three and yes, the Diamondbacks did get a double play anyway, but if you think about who was at bat, you see that a ground ball double play was much more likely.
So many things could've gone right for the Cubs with the hit-and-run. Kendall could've tied the game with a hit, a throwing error (almost happened) could've tied the game, or the Cubs could've stayed out of the double play and had both runners in scoring position with just one out (what Piniella was trying to achieve with the bunt). The worst-case scenario was incredibly unlikely (unfortunately, it happened) and even that doesn't completely derail the inning: two outs, but the tying run is still in scoring position.
The loss definitely hurts and it puts the St. Louis Cardinals in an encouraging position. With the Cardinals having 37 games remaining, they trail the Cubs by just 2 games (1 in losses) and are chomping at the bit to get the next series underway. With the Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals all idle on Monday, the three teams will begin crucial serieses on Tuesday. With the Cubs and Brewers playing each other, the Cardinals know that as long as they win their games, they will pick up ground on someone. After having picked up two games in the last two nights on both the Cubs and Brewers and with the guarantee that either the Cubs or the Brewers will lose two of the next three games, Cardinals' fans have to have their eyes wide open.