Marlins get Cubs' goat, 9-6

Florida caps comeback, extends Wrigley curse to reach World Series

Games 6, 7, it aces ivy league test

MVP Rodriguez rallies wild card to 3 wins in row

Chicago stays second city

League Championship Series

October 16, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

CHICAGO - Chalk it up to the Billy Goat Curse or just the karma of being the Chicago Cubs. The lovable losers from the Second City found a way to cough it up again and add a dismal new chapter to their history of hopelessness.

It wasn't meant to be, because there appeared to be no way they could lose the National League Championship Series after they won three of the first four games. But the Florida Marlins will be playing in the World Series on Saturday and the Cubs will be playing the same old sad song.

The Marlins, facing long odds and two of the best starting pitchers in baseball, won the final two games at Wrigley Field, the finale a 9-6 victory over Cubs ace Kerry Wood that left a sellout crowd of 39,574 and, well, a whole nation of lifelong and newborn Cubs fans in a state of stunned disbelief.

Wood didn't have much left, but he did what he could. He even brought the Cubs back from an early deficit with a mammoth two-run home run in the second inning. But he was swimming against the tide of history and a group of Marlins that has grown used to swimming upstream in this postseason.

When it was over, they were swimming in champagne while the city around them was drowning in a pool of tears. The Cubs will have all winter to think about the foul ball that should have been a foul out and the failed bid to reach their first World Series since 1945. The Marlins have two days to get ready to face the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox.

Maybe too much will be made of the Cubs losing and not enough made of the Marlins winning three straight games to earn their second trip to the Fall Classic in seven years. The National League's wild-card entrant was down by two runs in the middle innings last night and trailed by three going into the eighth inning of Game 6, but they kept rising up to take one more big swing against a clearly fatigued Cubs pitching staff.

"We tried to put them away, but they wouldn't go away," said Cubs manager Dusty Baker, who also suffered through a Game 6 reversal with the San Francisco Giants in the World Series last year. "We didn't lose the pennant. The Marlins won it. They're just a good team."

They beat Cubs phenom Mark Prior on Tuesday night and they beat Wood, and who would have believed that when they were backed up to the wall at Pro Player Stadium on Saturday night.

"I said if they beat our two best, than they deserve to go," Baker said, "and they did. They beat two of the best in the business. I hope they represent the National League well. We'll be rooting for them."

Catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who chose not to take soft money for a multi-year contract with the Orioles last winter, continued to make his one-year, $10 million contract with the Marlins look like the deal of the decade.

He scored two runs and set an NLCS record with his 10th RBI of the series, leaving little doubt who was the Most Valuable Player in the emotional seven-game marathon.

"This is where every player wants to be, going to the World Series," Rodriguez said. "We worked so hard since spring training and prepared for this kind of baseball and we did it. Nobody expected us to be in the playoffs, but we ended up winning 91 games in the regular season and beating two great teams in the Giants and the Cubs."

There were other MVP candidates. Pitcher Josh Beckett, who threw a two-hit shutout in Game 5, came back last night to retire eight straight batters in middle relief before giving up a pinch homer to Troy O'Leary.

There also was a case to be made for rookie Miguel Cabrera, who launched a three-run homer off Wood in the first inning to put the already shell-shocked Cubs on the defensive.

It was the third home run of the series for Cabrera, who became an instant hero in South Florida when he replaced injured Mike Lowell for the final month of the regular season. He has swung the bat so well that it was two weeks into the postseason before manager Jack McKeon moved Lowell and his 32 regular-season home runs back into the lineup.

The three homers by Cabrera extend his LCS record for home runs by a rookie in a series. Before Cabrera started peppering the bleachers, no rookie had ever hit more than one. He also made two fine running catches in right field in the fifth inning, not bad for a guy making only his fourth career start there.

"There were a lot of people who made a big contribution," McKeon said. "I can't say enough about Cabrera and all that he's done, and I can't say enough about Beckett. But Pudge [Rodriguez] has had an outstanding series, so I'd have to go along with the selection of Pudge."

Down 3-0, the Cubs rallied to tie the game in the bottom of the second when Eric Karros sliced a one-out single to right and Alex Gonzalez drove a double to the ivy in center field. The first Cubs run scored on a soft bouncer by catcher Damian Miller and the other two came across on Wood's dramatic shot deep into the left-field bleachers.

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