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Little bopper's big hopper key
Cubs manager Don Baylor said before Monday night's game that his mentor, Expos skipper Frank Robinson, "knows I have a few tricks up my sleeve."
He wasn't kidding.
Robinson had to witness the ultimate trick in the ninth inning Monday night after Baylor sent his 250-pound closer, Antonio Alfonseca, to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded.
Alfonseca, hitless in nine career at-bats with seven strikeouts, chopped a two-hopper to first that found a friendly patch of dirt and trampolined into right field for a two-run single.
"A moving bat's dangerous," Baylor said after his team pulled out the 6-4 victory. "The one on your shoulder is not. Put the ball in play and anything might happen."
Anything might and did happen Monday night.
Kerry Wood left the game after six innings because of an elbow injury. Relax, Cubs fans. It was his left elbow.
Wood took a ball off the elbow in the fifth after trying to snare Peter Bergeron's one-hopper. Wood cruised through the sixth, needing only seven pitches to complete the inning.
But with his arm swelling, the Cubs wanted to take no chances.
"He was in pain," Baylor said.
Wood, who had allowed just three hits, agreed.
"I was having trouble getting the left arm up in my delivery," he said. "They didn't want anything to throw off my mechanics."
Although the Cubs led 4-0, Wood's departure put the victory in jeopardy.
Carlos Zambrano retired two of the three batters he faced, striking out Mike Mordecai with a dazzling sinker. But with the left-handed Bergeron on deck, Baylor called for lefty Jeff Fassero.
Fassero allowed five of the six batters he faced to reach, prompting Baylor to call on Alfonseca to earn his first two-inning save since July 12, 1998.
"No problem for me," the big right-hander said.
Alfonseca proved that, giving the Cubs back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
Monday marked Moises Alou's Cubs debut, but the left fielder went hitless in four at-bats before being pulled for defense after seven innings. But his teammates made up for it.
Sammy Sosa and Fred McGriff hit back-to-back homers. Sosa, who later added an RBI double, reached base in all five plate appearances.
But the most dazzling offensive play came from a pitcher. And it wasn't Alfonseca.
It was Wood, who tested the rifle of right fielder Vladimir Guerrero and lived to tell about it. He sprinted from first to third on Corey Patterson's single in the third and sneaked into the bag with a headfirst slide.
"I cringe when players do that," Baylor said. "When my pitchers do it, [they're asking] for a busted finger or dislocated shoulder."
Wood didn't apologize for his gutsy decision. "I was going to make him make a perfect throw to get me out," he said.
Wood, who entered 0-3 lifetime against the Expos, obviously lusted for the win. With the Expos slated to be moved or contracted, he figured this was his last chance to leave Olympic Stadium with a victory.