The Cubs have shown a defiant attitude both on and off the field this season, refusing to back down against slights both real and imagined.
And after losing 6-4 to Atlanta at Wrigley Field on Saturday to force a decisive Game 5 in this division series, the Cubs were back in fighting mode thanks to Robert Fick's controversial play.
"It was a tough day at the ballpark today," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "But when the series started, you know you're playing a quality team that has been there before. I didn't want to admit it, but deep down in my heart I just felt it was going to go five games."
Chipper Jones' pair of two-run home runs led the Braves to a must-win victory in Game 4, and closer John Smoltz retired Sammy Sosa on a flyout to deep center field on a 3-2 pitch with two outs in the ninth with Damian Miller on second to end it.
"I thought Sammy's had a chance," Baker said. "He hit it to the deepest part of the park. That was a great matchup and a great at-bat."
Now the Cubs will put their dream season on the shoulders of Kerry Wood, who faces Mike Hampton on Sunday night at Turner Field for a chance to play Florida in the National League Championship Series.
"As much as we'd all like it to be easy and roll out with a 2-1 advantage and score 10 runs and shut 'em out, that'd be great," reliever Mike Remlinger said. "But that's not the way it's going to be for this team, and I just hope our fans understand that, because we're going to go down there [Sunday] and take care of things."
The play that lingered long after the game ended came in the eighth inning when Fick was running out a bunt attempt and tried to knock the ball out of Eric Karros' mitt in a modified version of the tomahawk chop. Though Karros simply called it an "interesting running technique," Baker said it wasn't "very clean" and Fick used "poor judgment."
Remlinger said Fick lacked "class" and ripped into him for his actions. "It was brutal," Remlinger said. "I've never seen anything like that in my life on a baseball field. Maybe on a football field. For it even to happen is ridiculous, but good for us. With our field here, not having a [replay board] to see for our fans I think tonight they'll see it on TV. You don't need a whole lot of extra incentive this time of year, but by all means, if anyone needs it, that's it."
Fick was unapologetic during a profanity-laced tirade at his locker. He not only implied Mark Prior hit Gary Sheffield in the left hand on purpose in a Game 3 incident that may sideline the Braves slugger the rest of the series, but he also practically dared Wood to throw at him in retaliation.
"If [Wood] wants to hit me, I'll be on first base," Fick said. "I don't [care]. We didn't hit anybody yesterday. They broke Sheff's hand, you know what I mean? We didn't buzz Sammy. We didn't buzz Moises [Alou], and they're hitting the ball all over the field. We have to play without Sheff. Did Prior hit Sheff on purpose? Who knows? He was pounding him in all night."
Though Karros hit two solo homers, the Cubs stranded eight runners and failed to come through in the clutch against Russ Ortiz and five relievers.
After stranding runners in scoring position in the first two innings, the Cubs broke through in the third on Alou's RBI double that Jones misplayed near the well in left field. But the Braves tied it off Matt Clement in the fourth and knocked the Cubs' right-hander out during a three-run fifth.
Jones' opposite field, two-run homer made it 3-1 and Vinny Castilla added a two-out, RBI single to end Clement's day.
Aramis Ramirez grounded into a double play with two men on to end the fifth, and after Karros' solo homer in the sixth made it 4-2 and Alex Gonzalez walked, Doug Glanville grounded into another double play to kill the Cubs momentum.
"Most of the time when we lose, we hit into double plays," Baker said.
Fick's bunt leading off the eighth caused Kyle Farnsworth to injure his right knee while throwing to first from an awkward position. Fick also could have injured Karros when he chopped his left forearm, causing the ball and mitt to go flying.
Karros held his wrist in pain while Farnsworth laid still on the ground. After umpire Ed Rapuano ruled Fick out, Karros remained in the game and Farnsworth was removed for Mark Guthrie, who walked Marcus Giles and served up another two-run homer to Jones.
Karros solo homer in the eighth and Miller's RBI double in the ninth closed the Cubs to within two runs, but Smoltz fanned Kenny Lofton and induced Mark Grudzielanek to pop out, before Sosa took a 95 m.p.h. fastball deep to center.
The Cubs now face one more obstacle in a season full of roadblocks, testing their resiliency once again.
"Once you do it, you have the power and the belief that you can do it again," Baker said. "If you're going to be a championship team, you're going to have to come back from adversity. We're down to a one-game season. We're tied. They don't have the lead, and we don't have the lead, so why wouldn't I feel very confident that we're going to get it done."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times