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Cubs' Fans Have Reason to Believe

Addition of Baker and first postseason series win in 95 years have Chicago excited going into Game 1.

October 07, 2003|Jason Reid | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — The North Side of Chicago is abuzz about the Cubs as Game 1 of the National League championship series begins tonight at Wrigley Field.

The wild-card winning Florida Marlins stand between the Cubs and their first World Series appearance since 1945, stirring even more excitement than usual among baseball's loyalist and longest-suffering fans.

The former "Lovable Losers" have already pulled off a historic feat under Manager Dusty Baker, defeating the Atlanta Braves for their first playoff series victory since 1908.

Ending a 95-year drought has only made the Cubs and their fans thirst for more, and the ride could really get wild.

"The way people here feel about the Cubs ... it's been unlike anything I've ever experienced in the game," said first baseman Eric Karros, who spent 11-plus seasons with the Dodgers.

"The passion and the emotion that the fans have here is really second to none. You have to experience it every day to really see what it's like.

"The whole town has been behind us. It seems like everywhere we go, we've got 'Cub-dom' following us around. It's all about the Chicago Cubs."

Unlike in some cities, however, it's not a bandwagon mentality. The support system has remained constant through decades of disappointment.

Despite the late-season collapse of the 1969 club, losses in the 1984 and '89 league championship series and '98 division series, optimistic Cub fans always look to next year.

Baker was determined to change that mind-set on joining the Cubs in November after a nice 10-year run in San Francisco.

The Cubs responded to Baker's challenges in holding off Houston down the stretch to win the NL Central division title. Then they defeated the Braves in a decisive Game 5 of the division series at Turner Field.

From 67-95 and last place in 2002 to four victories from the World Series this season. Mission accomplished.

"You can't really explain to anybody what playing for Dusty is like, they just have to experience it for themselves," said reserve outfielder Tom Goodwin, another former Dodger who has played under Baker in San Francisco and Chicago.

"Dusty just knows how to relate to players, but there's a lot more to it than that. Like I said, you just have to experience it to know."

Baker convinces players that they can accomplish anything, second baseman Mark Grudzielanek said.

"No question, Dusty knows how to get the most out of guys," said Grudzielanek, who emerged as the Cubs' top-of-the-lineup catalyst after being traded with Karros in December for catcher Todd Hundley and minor league outfielder Chad Hermansen.

"You want to play for a positive guy like Dusty who understands how to deal with guys. He definitely does that -- and you know he believes in you."

Believing, Baker said, is the biggest part.

"I remember back in my [playing days] with the Dodgers, with Tommy Lasorda, he genuinely believed," Baker said. "He would always tell us, 'You've got to believe it.'

"It occurs through winning. It occurs through bringing in new people that really don't know anything about the [manager] that was there before.

"You've got to try not to live in the past. You've got to leave it back there, play for the present and prepare for the future."

The Cubs still face a formidable challenge in the upstart Marlins.

Josh Beckett, who faces the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano in tonight's series opener, said Florida has plans too.

"As a group of players, everybody called us a surprise team," Beckett said. "Our team is not surprised by what we've done.

"We underachieved for the first couple of months, and I think that's how we became the surprise team.... We had a meeting in spring training about where we thought we should be, and it was right here."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Cubs in Postseason

World Series (Record: 2-8)

1945: Lost to Detroit Tigers, 4-3

1938: Lost to New York Yankees, 4-0

1935: Lost to Detroit Tigers, 4-2

1932: Lost to New York Yankees, 4-0

1929: Lost to Philadelphia Athletics, 4-1

1918: Lost to Boston Red Sox, 4-2

1910: Lost to Philadelphia Athletics, 4-1

1908: Beat Detroit Tigers, 4-1

1907: Beat Detroit Tigers, 4-0

1906: Lost to Chicago White Sox, 4-2

Record: Won 19, Lost 33

League Championship Series

(Record: 0-2)

1989: Lost to San Francisco Giants, 4-1

1984: Lost to San Diego Padres, 3-2

Record: Won 3, Lost 7

Divisional Playoff Series (Record 1-1)

2003: Beat Atlanta Braves, 3-2

1998: Lost to Atlanta Braves, 3-0

Record: Won 3, Lost 5

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

CUBS' PROJECTED LINEUP

*--* P Player Avg. HR RBIs CF Kenny Lofton 296 12 46 2B M. Grudzielanek 314 3 38 RF Sammy Sosa 279 40 103 LF Moises Alou 280 22 91 3B Aramis Ramirez 272 27 106 1B Randall Simon 275 16 72 SS Alex Gonzalez 228 20 59 C Damian Miller 233 9 36

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CUB ANALYSIS

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