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Wood, Sosa Feel Confident

Cubs' pitcher, slugger have high expectations for NL division series against the Braves.

September 30, 2003|Paul Sullivan | Chicago Tribune

ATLANTA — Kerry Wood and Sammy Sosa are the only Chicago Cubs remaining from the 1998 team that won a wild-card tiebreaker before losing three in a row to Atlanta in a National League division series.

The two Cubs went through a lot in the next four seasons, including three managerial firings, three seasons of at least 95 losses and reconstructive elbow surgery for Wood.

When Wood and Sosa take the field tonight at Turner Field for Game 1 of this year's division series, they will have different attitudes and expectations.

"We're coming in with the expectations of winning this series," Wood said. "In '98 we were a little more surprised to be in the postseason than we are this year. I think we expected to be here this year, and we're here. It's just a whole different feeling."

Atlanta remains the favorite, as it was in 1998, but the Cubs are a team that believes in destiny.

"I feel much better this time because we have better pitching, a better bullpen, a better team," Sosa said. "We're motivated. We feel great about ourselves."

The series is the classic matchup of young power pitchers facing a veteran power-hitting lineup. It's an age-old story with some surprising endings.

Cub Manager Dusty Baker pointed to the 1969 New York Mets, who were huge underdogs in the World Series against the heavy-hitting Baltimore Orioles but managed to win in five games behind pitchers Jerry Koosman and Tom Seaver.

"One thing is for sure, good hitting beats bad pitching," Baker said. "If you limp out there, they can beat you to death."

Wood faces 21-game winner Russ Ortiz tonight, hoping to continue his streak of dominant outings. He has a 0.65 earned-run average in his last six starts, with 58 strikeouts in 43 innings..

Wood, who hasn't pitched against the Braves this year, is 2-0 against Atlanta with a 2.14 ERA in five starts. The victories came at Turner Field, where he has a 1.74 ERA.

Baker said Wood was "healthier and calmer" over the last month or so, and catcher Damian Miller concurred.

"One thing he really has improved on is not beating himself, giving [opponents] a big inning," Miller said. "He's not walking the first two guys and the next thing you know you're down 2-0, 3-0. He has been able to limit that. He's starting to realize how good he is and how good he's going to be."

Wood has been a big-game pitcher much of the season, out-dueling Roger Clemens of the New York Yankees in Wrigley Field in June to deny Clemens his 300th career victory.

That Saturday afternoon game garnered the highest ratings for a regular-season telecast on Fox since 1998, one of the main reasons the Cubs are playing mostly night games in the first round.

A lack of run support probably cost Wood half a dozen more victories. He said he believes the offense eventually will come through.

"It seems like every game the last 1 1/2 months has been a tight game that we needed to win and we found a way to get it done," Wood said. "We expect to do the same."

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