Grand time had by Cubs

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When the Cubs offense was struggling in mid-June, Dusty Baker offered a spirited defense of his team.

"If you won 67 games and go to the World Series the next year, you will be the team of two centuries," the manager said. "Not one--two!" Look it up in the record books. Find me a team that won 67 games and was World Series champs the next year."

The Cubs put themselves one victory away from becoming that "team of two centuries" Saturday night at Pro Player Stadium, trouncing Florida 8-3 to take a 3-1 lead over the Marlins in the National League Championship Series.

Aramis Ramirez's two home runs and an LCS-record tying six RBIs launched the Cubs, while Matt Clement pitched 7 2/3 innings to post his first postseason victory.

Carlos Zambrano faces Josh Beckett on Sunday afternoon in Game 5, and if the Cubs can close out the series they'll fly home to Chicago as National League champions for the first time since 1945.

"It has been so long coming," Cubs center fielder Kenny Lofton said. "A lot of older fans understand the history, and the younger fans are getting explanations by the older ones. Everyone is starting to get a feel for the history of the Cubs--and it's pretty wild."

Only three teams in LCS history have overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven series: Kansas City in 1985 against Toronto, Boston in 1986 against California and Atlanta in 1996 against St. Louis.

Ramirez, Lofton and Randall Simon, the three Pirates refugees, have been instrumental players in the Cubs' rise from the ashes after coming over in the second half. Lofton is hitting .500 and has scored seven runs in the NLCS, while Simon and Ramirez had big home runs in Games 3 and 4.

"We always joke with Simon and Kenny that we're supposed to be home watching the World Series on TV," Ramirez said. "Now we're one win away."

Ramirez's two homers helped the Cubs set an NLCS record for home runs in a series (10), set by the 1984 Cubs, and his six RBIs tied Will Clark's NLCS record, set against the Cubs on Oct. 4, 1989.

The two teams also have combined for an NLCS-record 17 homers in a series.

Ramirez's 10 RBIs in nine playoff games gave him the postseason career record by a Cub, surpassing the nine by Frank "Wildfire" Schulte in World Series appearances in 1906, '07, '08 and '10.

Incredible as it may seem, the Cubs actually went to four World Series in a five-year span at the start of the last century. Now they're searching for their first championship since 1908.

After surviving an 11-inning thriller Friday night in Game 3, the Cubs put the Marlins on the ropes early in Game 4.

Rookie Dontrelle Willis walked the bases loaded in the first inning before serving up a 383-foot grand slam to Ramirez, the first by a Cub in postseason history.

The fast start relaxed Clement, who was on the mark from the outset.

If the Cubs can finish off the NLCS on Sunday, they'll get six days of rest before the start of the World Series next Saturday in either New York or Boston.

After clinching the NL Central Division title on the second-to-last day of the regular season and then winning a five-game division series over Atlanta, the Cubs are running on adrenaline.

"We're ready to go," Sammy Sosa said. "We don't need to rest. We'll rest when we die. We'll have a lot of time to rest."

Mark Prior and Kerry Wood could probably use a breather and Baker could use the extra time to get his rotation in order, choosing either Prior or Wood for a Game 1 start in the World Series.

But no one in the clubhouse was celebrating yet. The '84 Cubs were one victory from going to the World Series, but lost three straight to San Diego in the NLCS.

Last year's team finished 67-95 under managers Don Baylor and Bruce Kimm.

But Baker told his players in spring training to forget the past and consider this "Year One" of a new era.

His Cubs have enjoyed one of the most remarkable turnarounds in baseball, and it's not over yet. The 1914 Boston Braves won a World Series after going 69-82 the year before, earning them the moniker "Miracle Braves."

Upon arriving in Chicago last November after leading San Francisco to the World Series, Baker tried to temper expectations by proclaiming, "I don't do miracles."

Only Baker knows if he was crossing his fingers.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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