Cubs answer back in a big way, 12-3

Chicago evens NLCS at 1-1 with rout of Marlins

series shifts to Florida

League Championship Series

October 09, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

CHICAGO - There was an undercurrent of understandable angst at Wrigley Field last night, with the Chicago Cubs facing the possibility of losing the first two home games of the National League Championship Series.

It took only one game for Cub Fever to turn into Cub fatalism, but it took only a few innings to push that feeling back into the Second City's collective subconscious.

The Cubs erupted for eight runs in the first three innings and made things easy for youthful pitching ace Mark Prior on the way to a 12-3 victory over the Florida Marlins that evened the best-of-seven series at a game apiece.

Game 2 started much like Game 1, when the Cubs scored four times in the first inning, but they left no doubt this time, hammering Marlins pitcher Brad Penny for a record-tying seven runs before he was sent to the training room after just two innings to ice his arm and his bruised ego.

Sammy Sosa delivered the biggest blow, wowing the sellout crowd of 39,562 with a mammoth two-run homer in the second inning that cleared the grass hitting background in center field and landed in the upper bleachers under the scoreboard.

Maybe he also delivered a message. Sosa had managed only a three hits in 16 at-bats in the NL Division Series, but he hammered a dramatic ninth-inning homer on Tuesday night to emerge from a postseason slump that dated back to his soft 2-for-11 performance in the 1998 NL DDivision Series.

If Sosa is anything, he's a streak hitter, which could bode well for the rest of the postseason, especially if cleanup hitter Moises Alou and No. 5 hitter Aramis Ramirez also continue to deliver intimidating swings.

Alou hit a ball onto Waveland Avenue in Game 1, and Ramirez punctuated Penny's final inning last night with a line drive into the left-field bleachers for his second home run of the postseason. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez added two towering shots in the fifth and sixth innings and now has homered in three straight postseason games.

Prior didn't need that much help, but it was appreciated nonetheless. He shut the Mar lins out through the first five in nings, but he did not look nearly as overpowering as he had in his impressive Division Series start against the Atlanta Braves.

He allowed two base runners in the first and had runners at first and third with no one out in the second before working his way out of trouble. The Marlins couldn't make anything stick until Derrek Lee and Miguel Cabrera opened the sixth with back-to-back homers.

Everybody in the Cubs" locker room knew what might be at stake last night - nothing less than the dream of a World Series at Wrigley for the first time since 1945 - but Baker was careful to cast Game 2 in much less climactic terms during his pre-game news conference.

"It's not critical." he said. "If you say critical, that means that panic is right behind critical. That's the one thing you don't want to happen. I've been on teams, even World Series teams, that lost the first two and came back and won four in a row. I was on a World Series team that won the first two and lost four in a row.

"You saw Boston [in the American League Division Series]. Now that's critical when you lose two and you"ve got one to go, and they came back and won three in a row."

OK, so it wasn't critical, but it was pretty important, because a loss also would have punctured the aura of invincibility that has grown up around Prior and Kerry Wood over the past few weeks.

The two combined to go 3-0 with a 1.48 ERA to account for all of the Cubs victories in the Division Series. They were 8-2 with a 1.69 ERA in September, so it isn't just a postseason adrenaline rush.

Baker also would like to guard against the notion that his club's chances of winning the NLCS depend entirely on Prior and Wood.

"You need more than those two to get it done." he said. 'You"ve still got other guys going to pitch. And it wasn't just Prior and Wood that got us here. It was everybody that's gone out there."

Last night, it was everybody who went to the plate, or at least it seemed that way. Alou was the only non-pitcher without at least one hit, one run and one RBI by the fifth inning.

First baseman Randall Simon got it all started with a two-run single in the first inning. Kenny Lofton delivered RBI singles in the second and third on the way to a four-hit performance. The home runs were really just window-dressing, but they created a comfort zone that allowed an entire city to exhale.

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