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Cubs Collect on Marlins' Penny Ante

Chicago pounds Florida starter in 12-3 victory, with Sosa delivering a 495-foot homer and Prior pitching into the eighth inning to even the series, 1-1.

October 09, 2003|Peter Schmuck | Baltimore Sun

CHICAGO — There was an undercurrent of understandable angst at Wrigley Field on Wednesday 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 city's collective subconscious.

The Cubs erupted for eight runs in the first three innings and made things very 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, 1-1.

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 right-hander Brad Penny for a record-tying seven runs before he was sent to the training room to ice his arm and his bruised ego.

Sammy Sosa delivered the biggest blow, wowing the sellout crowd of 39,562 with a 495-foot two-run home run in the second inning that cleared the grass patch that serves as a batter's backdrop above the center-field fence and landed in the upper bleachers under the scoreboard.

Maybe he also delivered a message. Sosa had managed only three hits in 16 at-bats in the division series against Atlanta, but he hammered a ninth-inning homer Tuesday night to emerge from a postseason slump that dated to his soft two-for-11 performance in the 1998 NL division series.

"I was just happy to have a chance to produce and to help this team," Sosa said. "It feels good. I've been lucky to see two good pitches and have been able to hit them out of the ballpark, but they'll see that and they'll make adjustments, and I'll have to make an adjustment myself going back to Florida."

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 Wednesday with a line drive into the left-field bleachers for his second home run of the playoffs. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez hit two towering shots -- in the fifth and sixth innings -- and has homered in three consecutive games.

"He just didn't have good location," Florida Manager Jack McKeon said of Penny.

Marlin reliever Michael Tejera threw the most memorable pitch, however. His mechanics got messed up in the eighth inning and somehow he threw the ball over Florida's first-base dugout.

Prior didn't need much help, but it was appreciated nonetheless. He shut out the Marlins through five innings, but he did not look nearly as overpowering as he had in his impressive division series start against Atlanta.

He allowed two runners in the first inning and had runners at first and third with nobody out in the second inning before working his way out of trouble. The Marlins couldn't make anything stick until Derrek Lee and Miguel Cabrera opened the sixth with homers.

"We fell behind too early. When you're down 8-0 in the third inning, you're in trouble," McKeon.

Cub Manager Dusty Baker raised some eyebrows by letting Prior pitch into the eighth inning, when it might have been prudent to pull him early and keep him fresh for a possible sixth game.

The Cubs had a huge lead, but Baker learned in Game 6 of last year's World Series -- when his Giants blew a 5-0 lead against the Angels -- how quickly a one-sided game can turn around.

"We discussed [pulling Prior]," Baker said. "That's why we had someone warming up in the eighth with him. The way the ball has been flying out of here today and yesterday.

"We didn't want to take any chance of them putting up a bunch of crooked numbers and them coming back in the ballgame at all. We knew how many pitches he had. Our number was 115. He went one over that and we got him out of there."

Prior said he used the extra time to work on his changeup and, presumably, to change things up so the Marlins don't lock in on him if he has to start Game 6.

"I went to the changeup more, to see their reaction to it," Prior said. "It's a pitch I have, but don't usually use a lot."

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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HOW THEY SCORED

FIRST INNING: Cubs 2, Marlins 0 -- With one out, Grudzielanek singled to short. Sosa walked. Alou flied to right, Grudzielanek taking third. Ramirez walked, loading the bases. Simon singled to left, Grudzielanek and Sosa scoring with Ramirez stopping at second. Gonzalez flied to left. Two runs, two hits, two left.

SECOND INNING: Cubs 5, Marlins 0 -- Bako singled to second. Prior sacrificed. Lofton singled to left, Bako scoring. Lofton stole second. Grudzielanek grounded to second, Lofton taking third. Sosa homered to center, his second. Alou lined to right. Three runs, three hits.

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