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.

Last night, 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 got away. The Marlins have two days to get ready to face the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, who will meet in the decisive game of the American League Championship Series tonight at Yankee Stadium.

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.

Catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who chose not to take soft money for a multi-year contract with the Orioles, 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 to win Most Valuable Player in the emotional seven-game marathon. 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 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 extended 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, which wasn't bad for a guy making only his fourth career start at that position.

The Marlins scored in the first inning for the first time in the series, which seemed like some kind of omen after they had been outscored 12-0 by the Cubs in the first through six games. But the Cubs would not go quietly into the dark night.

They 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 right 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.

Marlins starter Mark Redman jumped ahead of Wood, but the Cubs ace worked the count full before taking a huge cut and driving the ball almost to the screen behind the right-center-field seats.

The crowd erupted in an ovation that did not subside until Wood completed a decidedly deliberate home run trot. It was almost as if that one swing chased away all the negative feelings that had grown up like ivy after the strange events of the night before.

The Cubs were on a roll. Redman plunked Sammy Sosa with a pitch in the third inning and Moises Alou crushed a ball over the screen and onto Waveland Avenue -- much to the delight of the thousands of fans waiting outside.

Maybe Alou really did have a soft spot for embattled Cubs fan Steve Bartman, the guy who reached out and deflected a foul ball away from his glove to contribute to the disastrous Marlins comeback the night before.

Alou was surprisingly forgiving after Game 6, allowing that Bartman did what any fan would have done in the same situation, and extending his hope that it was not something that Bartman would have to regret for the rest of his life.

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