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Cubs fry Fish, even series
The Cubs pulled off a brazen power grab in front of 39,562 eyewitnesses Wednesday night at Wrigley Field to even up the National League Championship Series with Florida with an all-out assault on the Marlins' pitching staff.
On a warm October night when right-hander Mark Prior was supposed to be the scene-stealer, the suddenly explosive Cubs offense pushed the star pupil into the background in a 12-3 romp over Florida in Game 2 of the best-of-seven series.
"Sooner or later, your offense is going to get it together," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "I'm not surprised."
After hitting three home runs in Game 1, the Cubs connected for four Wednesday during a 16-hit attack. If this keeps up, how long will it be before some entrepreneur starts selling "Dusty's Wallbangers" T-shirts outside Wrigley?
Alex Gonzalez became only the second Cub to hit two homers in an LCS game, tying the mark hitting coach Gary Matthews set in the Cubs' 13-0 drubbing of San Diego in Game 1 of the 1984 NLCS. Baker said Gonzalez could be the next Gene Tenace or Al Weis of the playoffs, referring to two relatively unknown players who starred for Oakland and the New York Mets, respectively, in classic World Series performances.
"I've always been a streaky hitter when it comes to hitting for power," Gonzalez said.
Sammy Sosa hit his second tape-measure homer in two days, giving him five homers against the Marlins in eight games this year, Aramis Ramirez added a solo shot and Kenny Lofton went 4-for-5.
Kerry Wood, the new Sports Illustrated cover boy, will face Marlins left-hander Mark Redman in Game 3 on Friday, as the series moves to Pro Player Stadium in Miami.
"We have a guy who's 14-9 and they have a guy who's 14-11, and it sounds like we don't even have a chance," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said.
Prior shut out the Marlins for the first five innings before serving up back-to-back homers to Derrek Lee and Miguel Cabrera in the sixth, at which point Florida trailed 11-2. Despite the huge lead and the possibility Prior may have to pitch on three days' rest in Game 5, Baker let Prior pitch into the eighth.
He wound up allowing three runs on eight hits over seven inningstwo of which were earnedand threw "only" 116 pitches.
"We knew how many pitches he had and the [limit] was 115," Baker said. "He went over by one, and that's why we went out and got him."
Like Wood, the 23-year-old Prior has elevated his game in the postseason, in spite of the added pressure.
"We have to put these two games behind us and start over," Prior said, "And now it's a five-game series."
Prior doesn't have a made-for-marketing nickname yet like "Rocket" Roger Clemens or Dontrelle "D-Train" Willis. But Prior recently told his college newspaper, "The [USC] Daily Trojan," that Alan Benes began calling him "Truth" when they were teammates at Triple-A Iowa last year.
"Because [Benes said] everything he heard about me was true," Prior said.
The truth is that Prior has yet to experience any real hard times since coming up to the Cubs on May 22, 2002 with only nine minor-league starts under his belt. He's 24-12 with a 2.74 earned-run average in his brief career, with a sensational strikeouts-to-walks ratio of nearly 5-to-1 (245 strikeouts to 50 walks). He's now 2-0 in the postseason with a 1.69 ERA.
The Cubs began the day the same way they did in Game 1, knocking around the Marlins starter in the first inning. Wednesday's victim was Brad Penny, who gave up a two-run, opposite field single to Randall Simon to in the first. While Josh Beckett eventually settled down after the Cubs four-run first in Game 1, Penny got progressively worse.
After Prior escaped a jam in the second, putting runners on first and third with no outs and then leaving them there, the Cubs jumped on Penny again in the bottom of the inning. Lofton's RBI single made it 3-0 and Sosa cranked a 495-foot home run to dead center.
The ball sailed over the shrubbery and landed on top of the center-field camera shed. It was almost as if Sosa was giving a shout to late WGN-TV director Arne Harris, who popularized the center-field camera shot decades ago and helped make Sosa a recognizable face in the mid-1990s, before Sosa became a household name.
Sosa came out of the dugout to make a curtain call, but said he didn't pay attention to the distance.
""It doesn't matter to me," he said. "As soon as I swung the bat I knew the ball was out of the ballpark. That was my main concern."
Ramirez homered to left leading off the third and Penny was yanked after Simon singled. Paul Bako doubled off the wall off Nate Bump to bring home Simon and Lofton singled Bako in to make it 8-0.
Gonzalez extended his home run streak to three straight games with a two-run blast off Rick Helling in the Cubs' three-run fifth and added another in the sixth to make it 12-2.
"You have to look at [Gonzalez] and say, 'Hey, we're not pitching him too good,'" McKeon said in an understatement.
Asked if he had flashbacks to Game 1 of the '84 NLCS, when he was general manager of the Padres, McKeon replied: "I had flashbacks in '84 when the Cubs beat us 13-2, or 13-0."