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 - The Florida Marlins and Chicago Cubs reached the National League Championship Series largely on the strength of their strong young pitching staffs, but there was little evidence of that in Game 1 last night at Wrigley Field.

Hard-throwing young right-handers Josh Beckett and Carlos Zambrano hooked up in what was expected to be the first in a series of pitching duels, but instead presided over a record-setting offensive performance that featured the most extra-base hits (17) by two teams in a league championship series game.

The Marlins eventually emerged on top, scoring a 9-8 victory on a home run by pinch hitter Mike Lowell in the top of the 11th inning that could reverberate through the entire best-of-seven series.

Lowell, an All-Star third baseman who missed the final month of the season with a broken hand, led off the 11th against left-hander Mark Guthrie and launched a towering fly ball that landed in the netting at the top of the center-field fence.

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.

"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."

The momentum had shifted back and forth all night as the teams traded big swings, the most dramatic coming from Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa, who broke out of a 3-for-20 playoff slump by launching a game-tying, two-run shot onto Waveland Avenue with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to make it 8-8.

Sosa's home run - the first of his postseason career - brought the sellout crowd of 39,567 back to life after Ivan Rodriguez appeared to put the Marlins in position to win with a bases-loaded, two-run single in the top of the ninth.

"It just kept going back and fourth," Lowell said. "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 both teams put on at one of baseball's most historic ballparks.

"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 no one should have been particularly surprised to see the baseball carrying well in that direction.

But the weather didn't really explain what happened in the early innings.

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.

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 a run-scoring triple. If he had turned in the right direction, Pierre might have run the ball down, but it was a hard-hit ball, as were the other three shots that Beckett gave up in the inning.

Moises Alou followed with a mammoth homer to left that landed across Waveland Avenue, and Aramis Ramirez lined a ball high off the center-field fence for the Cubs' second triple. It was the first time that any Cubs team has hit two triples in the same inning in a postseason game, but there would be a lot of statistical facts floating around by the time things settled down in the middle innings.

The Cubs' 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 he would soon have his own Wrigley Field nightmare inning.

Rodriguez put the Marlins back into the game with a three-run homer in the third, and Cabrera and Juan Encarnacion added back-to-back shots later in the inning to give Florida a 5-4 lead and an NLCS record for homers in an inning.

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