Across the field in the visiting dugout at Wrigley Field, the biggest decision facing the manager of the Padres, Bud Black, probably rated along the lines of whether to indulge himself in sunflower seeds or a piece of bubble gum.
Yes, that's about as much apprehension Black and the Padres have faced in this series, especially on the pitching side where another strong performance by a starting pitcher highlighted a 5-1 victory over the Cubs before a crowd of 33,267.
Two days after Kevin Correia tossed six scoreless innings and a day after Jon Garland went seven shutout innings, Clayton Richard won his 11th game by limiting Chicago to one run over 6 2/3 innings as the Padres won for the ninth time in their last 10 outings.
"We are getting good pitching performances, playing good defense and pushing some runs across," Black said. "I think the way we're playing makes us confident going into each and every game.
"When you add it all up, you have a chance to win games."
That's something the Padres (72-47) have become quite proficient at, especially during a second-half run that has seen them go 21-10 since the All-Star break and turn what was a precarious two-game lead in the National League West into a 5 1/2-game advantage over the Giants, who were playing a night game in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
As they have all season, the Padres leaned on their pitching to get them their third victory in as many days over the Cubs (50-71), who burned through six rookie pitchers, probably much to the chagrin of Piniella, who hasn't always embraced rookies during his career as a manager.
Those six pitchers combined for five walks, a hit batter, a wild pitch that allowed a run to score and 11 hits.
As for the Padres, Richard (11-5) didn't exactly cruise, as he allowed seven hits and had two walks. Relievers Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams and Tim Stauffer combined for the last seven outs without so much as a perilous moment along the way.
Whereas Piniella and the Cubs were dealing with pitchers without much of a big league resume, Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley found some comfort in knowing what his pitchers can and will do.
"We expect our guys to be consistent," Balsley said. "I wouldn't call it comfort, but there is a trust in our guys' ability to compete and execute."
Richard, who admitted that he's probably at his best when he's getting more fly balls than ground balls, got 10 fly-ball outs Wednesday and put at least one baserunner on in every inning he pitched.
"When Clayton pounds the fastball away with good velocity, you'll see some fly balls," Black said. "When it's down, it will produce a grounder. I think the challenge for him is to continue to refine his game, continue to work on his secondary pitches."
Balsley said he doesn't read too much into a ground ball-fly ball ratio. His interest is in the bottom line.
"To me, an out is an out," Balsley said. "Everyone talks about the ground ball-fly ball thing ... I want outs. I want to know what your out ratio is."
After a rough stretch in July and part of August, Richard has won his last two starts, holding the opposition to two or fewer runs each time.
"Darren has been great making some small adjustments to help get me back to where I was cruising," Richard said. "The last couple of starts, it's starting to show."
The Padres provided Richard with two runs right out of the chute, as the first five batters in the inning reached base off Cubs pitcher Casey Coleman (0-1), making his first Major League start.
Matt Stairs, given a rare start in left field, fell behind in the count, 0-2, before working it full against Coleman. He then jumped on a fastball away and hit it off the ivy-covered wall in left field for a 2-0 lead.
"That was a key hit," Black said of Stairs, who saved a run one inning later making a diving catch in left field of a Coleman line drive with a runner on second base.
The Padres got a solo home run from Adrian Gonzalez before scoring runs in the eighth and ninth innings to put the game away.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less