Lowell's homer in 11th inning tops Cubs, 9-8

Pinch hitter gives Marlins victory in Game 1 slugfest

7 home runs tie postseason mark

Sosa's 2-out, 2-run shot in 9th had tied game at 8

League Championship Series

October 08, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

CHICAGO - Florida Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell has been the odd man out of this postseason, but he dealt himself back in with one huge swing in last night's 9-8 victory over the Chicago Cubs in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

You remember Lowell. He was the All-Star who hit 32 home runs to carry the Marlins back into playoff contention, then broke his hand and missed the entire month of September.

He's the reason that popular Oriole Jeff Conine was traded to the Marlins on Aug. 31. He's the reason that rookie Miguel Cabrera got the chance to step in at third base and produce down the stretch and in the Division Series.

Lowell was a forgotten man until he launched a towering home run off reliever Mark Guthrie in the top of the 11th inning to lift the Marlins before 39,567 at Wrigley Field.

"It was perfect," said Marlins manager Jack McKeon. "We knew he was capable of hitting the ball out of the ballpark, and he did it. ...

"Mike has been hurt. Miguel Cabrera has done a great job for us and it's been hard for Mike to get at-bats. It was great for him to get the winning blow, so he can feel like he's part of it."

It was the seventh home run of the game, tying a postseason record and getting the Marlins on the board before they have to face Cubs aces Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in the next two games.

The momentum shifted back and forth as both teams traded haymakers, the most dramatic coming from Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa, who broke out of a 3-for-20 playoff slump with a game-tying, two-run shot onto Waveland Avenue with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning - the first postseason home run of his career.

Ivan Rodriguez appeared to put the Marlins in position to win with a bases-loaded single in the ninth that gave him five RBIs in the game, but it just wasn't going to be that simple.

"It just kept going back and fourth," said Lowell, whose previous home run was on Aug. 15. "It was a weird night. In the ninth inning, Sammy comes through for the crowd. It was just a classic matchup."

Cubs manager Dusty Baker looked drained afterward, but he couldn't help but appreciate the show the teams put on.

"That's how it's going to be every game," Baker said. "That's playoff baseball. We were up. They were up. It was full of emotional twists. I'm sure everybody is emotionally exhausted."

It was an unseasonably warm evening on the North Side, and a light breeze was blowing out to left-center field, so it was no surprise to see the baseball carrying well in that direction.

But the weather didn't really explain what happened in the early innings last night, especially when Game 1 was supposed to be a tight pitching duel between young lions Josh Beckett and Carlos Zambrano.

"I think everyone, myself included, thought it was going to be a low-scoring game," McKeon said. "You just never know what's going to happen. It turned out to be a slugfest."

The Marlins trotted Beckett to the mound as they did in Game 1 of the Division Series against the San Francisco Giants, but he was not the same pitcher who gave up just two hits over seven innings in an impressive duel against Giants ace Jason Schmidt. At least, not at the outset.

Beckett walked Kenny Lofton to lead off the bottom of the first, then gave up extra-base hits to four of the next five batters as the Cubs jumped on top with four quick runs.

It wasn't all Beckett's doing. Center fielder Juan Pierre misjudged a line drive by Mark Grudzielanek and then fell down while the Cubs' second baseman raced around to third with an RBI triple. If he had turned in the right direction, Pierre might have run the ball down, but it was a rocket, as were the other three shots that Beckett gave up in the inning.

Moises Alou followed with a mammoth homer into the street behind left field and Aramis Ramirez lined a ball high off the center-field fence for the Cubs' second triple. It was the first time the Cubs had ever hit two triples in the same inning in a postseason game.

The fourth run scored when Alex Gonzalez lined a double that bounced past a diving Jeff Conine in left field.

Beckett was on the ropes big-time, but he collected himself and came back to reel off 12 straight outs after Gonzalez's RBI double.

Zambrano got off to a much more efficient start - and had to feel pretty good with four runs on the board - but would soon have his own Wrigley Field nightmare inning.

Apparently, the Marlins just had a later tee time. Rodriguez ushered them right back into the game with his three-run homer in the third and Cabrera and Juan Encarnacion added back-to-back shots in the inning to give the Marlins a 5-4 lead and an NLCS record for homers in an inning.

NLCS glance

Yesterday's score

Florida 9, Chicago 8, 11 inn. (Florida leads series 1-0) Today's game

Florida (Penny 14-10, 4.13) at Chicago (Prior 18-6, 2.43), 8:18 p.m., chs. 45, 5

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