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Marlins Off the Hook

Beckett pitches a two-hitter in 4-0 win over the Cubs, who still lead series, 3-2, and will try to clinch at home Tuesday.

October 13, 2003|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — The Florida Marlins clung to life like the catch of the day sprawled on a dock, flipping madly and gasping for air.

Then a determined young man named Josh Beckett came along and placed them gently back in the water before it was too late.

Beckett recorded 11 strikeouts and shrugged off a menacing stare-down from Sammy Sosa on his way to completing a two-hit shutout Sunday at Pro Player Stadium, and Florida staved off elimination in Game 5 of the National League championship series with a 4-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

Beckett's show-stopping performance, combined with a game-turning two-run homer by Mike Lowell in the fifth inning, sent the best-of-seven series back to Wrigley Field with the Cubs holding a three-games-to-two edge.

Chicago remains a prohibitive favorite to win the series with ace Mark Prior scheduled to start Game 6 on Tuesday and Kerry Wood slated to start a Game 7 on Wednesday if necessary.

"We know our backs are still against the wall," Marlin Manager Jack McKeon said. "But we're used to that."

The 23-year-old Beckett, who pitched the first complete game of his career on one of baseball's biggest stages, wasn't ready to concede anything after limiting the Cubs to two singles, including an Alex Gonzalez flare that broke up his no-hit bid in the fifth inning.

"It's not over," Beckett said. "There's still going to be a Game 6

Beckett said he would attempt to come back on two days' rest to start Game 7 if necessary. The Marlins' hopes in Game 6 rest on the shoulders of Carl Pavano, a starter during the regular season who has recorded two playoff victories pitching out of the bullpen.

Chicago starter Carlos Zambrano matched Beckett zero for zero on the scoreboard through four innings, escaping bases-loaded jams in the third and fourth. The emotional Zambrano played to a large contingent of Cub fans situated above the team's dugout, repeatedly pumping his arm after retiring the Marlins in the first and tipping his cap after striking out Luis Castillo with the bases loaded in the fourth.

"It's the way that I know how to pitch," Zambrano said.

But the Florida fans who made up most of the sellout crowd of 65,279 did the celebrating an inning later after Zambrano walked Miguel Cabrera with one out and hung a slider to Lowell, who blasted the pitch into the left-field seats for his second go-ahead homer of the series.

His bases-empty shot in the 11th inning Tuesday won Game 1 for the Marlins.

Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Conine added solo shots in the seventh and eighth as the Marlins denied the Cubs a chance to advance to their first World Series since 1945.

Beckett, who won only nine games during the regular season and had been torched for six runs in 6 1/3 innings in Game 1, found a combination of pitches that worked nearly to perfection. He threw 80 of 115 pitches for strikes and walked one.

"He had us chasing the high fastball, which you don't have a whole bunch of time to [react to]," Cub Manager Dusty Baker said. "He had a very effective changeup after his fastball, and then he threw the curveball when he needed to.

"This was a complete performance by him."

Sosa, hitless in four at-bats, attributed part of Beckett's effectiveness to shadows that crept over the infield during the early portions of the game, and players from both teams agreed that it was difficult for hitters to pick up the ball.

Sosa created more drama than any other Cub hitter when he barked at Beckett in the fourth after the pitcher unleashed a high-and-inside pitch that sent Sosa into a defensive crouch. Sosa said he sensed possible retaliation after Zambrano had plunked Cabrera on the elbow with a pitch in the previous inning.

Rodriguez came to Beckett's defense as Sosa took a few steps forward; the catcher told the slugger that there was no intention on the part of the right-hander. "We didn't try to hit him," Rodriguez said afterward. "The ball just got away from Josh."

Beckett reacted by calmly walking toward Sosa and taking the ball from Rodriguez.

"I'm just used to having the ball in my hand, I guess," Beckett said. "I thought [Sosa] overreacted, to be completely honest with you. I thought it was really stupid that we had to go through that."

Beckett said he sensed he was in control from the outset, when he became the first Marlin pitcher in this series to hold the Cubs scoreless in the first inning.

"I felt it right away," he said. "I felt I had good stuff and my mechanics were coming together."

Aramis Ramirez, who had hit two homers in Game 4, gave Beckett a momentary scare in the fifth when he sent a line drive down the left-field line.

Said Beckett: "I was actually saying, probably out loud, 'Go foul, go foul, go foul.' "

The ball landed about a foot foul, and the Marlins survived to play another day.

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