With the smell of a division title in their senses, the Cubs went for the kill early against Pittsburgh in Game 2 on Saturday.
Sammy Sosa's first-inning home run, a mammoth blast to center field, staked Matt Clement to a quick lead, and the right-hander cruised into the eighth inning in their division-clinching 7-2 win over the Pirates.
"I told Matt [Friday] during the rainout, 'Hey, man, you've got a chance to pitch the clincher,'" manager Dusty Baker said. "My son Darren called and said: 'Tell Matty, 'Very, very, very, very good luck today.'"
Clement didn't need very, very, very, very good luck. All he needed was Sosa's blast to get the crowd going and the nasty slider that he didn't have in his last start.
Sosa kick-started the Cubs with a home run that landed in the first row of the upper section of the center-field bleachers, his 40th of the season. It's his sixth straight season with 40 or more homers, a National League record.
The Cubs proceeded to smoke Pittsburgh with a five-run second inning off Ryan Vogelsong (2-2), giving everyone in the ballpark a chance to sit back and relax a bit. Run-scoring singles by Ramon Martinez and Paul Bako made it 3-0, and Mark Grudzielanek's two-run single broke the game open.
"There was a sense of urgency that started after we got the big lead," Clement said. "Early the adrenaline was going, and I was trying to calm myself down so it didn't hurt me."
As soon as Clement made that statement, his infant son, Mattix, began to yell "Da-da" from the podium.
"He has more adrenaline than me right now," Clement said.
Clement (14-12) carried a shutout into the eighth inning before being removed with two outs after the Pirates scored two runs. The crowd gave him a standing ovation, one of several handed out on the day.
"It's great to do this for the city of Chicago," Clement said. "They haven't had this for so long. The crowd is always there. It's just fun to go pitch for the city of Chicago."
Sergio Mitre and an assortment of relievers will get to pitch Sunday in a game that was rendered meaningless by the clincher. Then it's on to Atlanta for the division series.
"They beat us pretty good, four of six," Baker said. "[Braves manager] Bobby Cox told me the last time we played them that we have a good shot. Atlanta is a tough place to play, a tough place to win. But I think our guys are ready for the task."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times