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Aramis Gives Cubs a Scent of the Series

Ramirez knocks in six, and Clement has a strong outing as Chicago takes a 3-1 edge with an 8-3 win.

October 12, 2003|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — Pro Player Stadium was so quiet during the latter stages of Game 4 of the National League championship series that you could almost hear a pennant drop.

Gone appear to be the once-promising World Series aspirations of the Florida Marlins, who were overwhelmed by Aramis Ramirez's power display and Matt Clement's pitching performance during an 8-3 loss to Chicago that put the Cubs on the brink of their first World Series appearance in 58 years.

The streaking Cubs took a commanding three-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven series in front of an NLCS-record crowd of 65,829 that included a sizable contingent of vociferous Chicago fans.

The Cub faithful stood and cheered Ramirez during a historic performance in which the third baseman hit two home runs, including the first postseason grand slam in franchise history, and tied Will Clark's league championship record of six runs batted in. And they gave Clement a standing ovation after the right-hander baffled the Marlins for most of his 7 2/3 innings.

"You started to hear the Cubs fans more than the Marlins fans, even though they were outnumbered in the stadium," said Clement, who gave up five hits and three runs after Chicago had built a 7-0 cushion in the fourth inning. "That was a nice feeling to be out there and hear your own fans."

The din of opposing fan noise could reach a crescendo during Game 5 today as the Cubs try to eliminate the Marlins.

Only three teams have overcome a 3-1 deficit since the league championship series switched to a best-of-seven format in 1985, and the 2003 Marlins could be kaput today if Chicago starter Carlos Zambrano pitches as well as Clement did Saturday.

But the Cubs, winners of three consecutive games, have to like their chances even if the series returns to Wrigley Field for Games 6 and 7. Florida would then have to get past Mark Prior and Kerry Wood -- a combined 4-0 in the postseason -- to make its first World Series appearance since 1997.

Clement, roughed up by Atlanta in his only previous playoff appearance, provided the Cubs with an unexpected boost by becoming their first starter besides Prior and Wood to notch a postseason victory.

Ramirez said he thought that was a possibility after he blasted a first-inning Dontrelle Willis pitch inside the left-field foul pole for a grand slam that put the Marlins in a four-run hole. The Cubs scored the runs with the benefit of only one hit as Willis had loaded the bases by walking Kenny Lofton, Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou.

"It was exciting with the kind of pitching we have," Ramirez said. "I knew it was going to be tough for them to come back."

Chicago also had dropped a four-spot on Florida in the first inning of Games 1 and 2, with the Marlins rallying for a victory in Game 1 and falling apart during a blowout loss in Game 2. Game 4 more closely resembled Game 2, as the Cubs added three more runs before the end of the fourth inning to take a 7-0 lead before the Marlins scored twice in the fifth.

Ramirez drove in his fifth run on a single through the right side of the infield in the third before adding his second homer of the game in the seventh on a solo shot to left off reliever Nate Bump. With a chance to add to his stellar evening in the ninth, Ramirez struck out.

Willis, the Marlin rookie who had gained widespread acclaim at the All-Star break after going 9-1 with a 2.08 earned-run average, continued his puzzling downward spiral. The former Cub prospect, who was traded for Clement in a six-player deal last year, went 5-5 over the second half of the regular season and finished with a 3.30 ERA. After giving up six runs and five walks over 2 1/3 innings Saturday, Willis' postseason ERA puffed up to an unsightly 12.38.

"That's his problem since the All-Star game, bases on balls and getting behind hitters," Florida Manager Jack McKeon said. "When he was 9-1 he was staying out in front and challenging hitters."

McKeon removed Willis in the third after the struggling starter had walked Eric Karros on a full-count pitch to load the bases for the second time in three innings.

Reliever Rick Helling couldn't pitch Florida out of the mess, giving up Alex Gonzalez's run-scoring single that made it 6-0, Chicago. Five of the eight Cubs who scored in the game had reached base on a walk.

"You can't have that if you're going to win," McKeon said.

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