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No Joy in Cubville

Times Staff Writer

The sound of champagne corks popping in the jubilant clubhouse of the Florida Marlins on Wednesday night echoed through the nearby and silent clubhouse of the Chicago Cubs like the disconcerting bleats of that cursing billy goat.

Looking much like the wild-card Angels of last October, the wild-card Marlins became only the fourth team in league championship series history to rebound from a 3-1 deficit as they defeated the Cubs, 9-6, in the climactic seventh game to win the National League pennant and advance to Saturday’s start of the World Series against the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox.

Bring it on, suggested Juan Pierre after the infectious Marlins, needing no help from any interfering fan, had stunned another Wrigley Field crowd of 39,574, added to the 58-year pennant drought of the Cubs and completed their improbable three-game win streak against the vaunted young lions of the Chicago pitching staff -- Carlos Zambrano in Game 5 in Florida and Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in Games 6 and 7 on Wrigley’s hallowed grass.

“We shocked the world,” Pierre said, endorsing a theme that bounced off the champagne-drenched walls of the cramped Florida clubhouse and referred to the impression that the prime-time Cubs were America’s October darlings, though maybe not the world’s

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Who could blame Pierre, however, for expanding the realm?

Didn’t he keep seeing the Cubs get preferential treatment on CNN?

“No one expected us to be here,” Pierre said. “No one expected us to beat Prior and Wood here. No one will think we can beat the Yankees or Red Sox, but we’ve proven we can beat anyone. We’re going to the show and it doesn’t matter which of those teams we play.”

The Wrigley faithful pleaded fervently, then sat silently as Ugueth Urbina worked a hitless ninth inning and the Marlins celebrated in the middle of the infield.

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If it was another sad chapter in the frustrating lore of the Cubs, their seventh loss in a row in a potential pennant-clinching game, who could have predicted that Dusty Baker, in his first year at their helm, would lead them to a division title and Game 7 of the league championship series after they lost 95 games last year?

Baker made reference to the improbability and said:

“It’s always painful to lose, especially at this point, but you’ve got to be proud of our guys and how far we came to get to this point in a short period of time,

“The Marlins played great baseball. Sometimes, at the end, you’ve got to tip your cap and ask, ‘Were they better than us?’

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“Well, they might have been better. They might have been more well rounded.”

They were certainly not intimidated, rallying from that 3-0 eighth-inning deficit against Prior in Game 6 and collecting seven hits and seven runs off Wood in only 5 2/3 innings of Game 7.

The major league strikeout leader needed 112 pitches to negotiate that brief distance and gave up a three-run homer to Miguel Cabrera in the first inning, three more runs around an Ivan Rodriguez double in the fifth and a solo run when Florida got three singles in the sixth. Wood was on the bench when Alex Gonzalez doubled to drive in the eighth and ninth runs in the seventh.

“Was I disappointed in his performance?” Baker said of Wood. “No, and I don’t think I left him in too long either. If I thought I left him in too long I would have taken him out, but he was still throwing the ball well.”

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A 33-pitch first inning, however, documented the fact that he wasn’t locating it well, and the Marlins took advantage of favorable pitch counts on a night when Wood hit better than he pitched, slugging a two-run homer off Florida starter Mark Redman in the second to get even for Cabrera’s shot in the first.

Moises Alou belted a two-run homer off Redman in the third to give Wood a brief lead of 5-3, but the Cubs collected only one hit over the final 6 2/3 innings -- a home run by Troy O’Leary in the seventh -- as Josh Beckett, whose two-hit shutout in Game 5 was the series turning point, pitched four of those innings on two days’ rest. Beckett characterized it as his normal throw day and said he would be ready to start Game 1 of the World Series, if he gets that expected call.

Beckett’s future is ahead of him. Rodriguez was thought done when he was the unwanted free agent of last winter, but he will go into the Series as the most valuable player of the league championship series, having driven in a record 10 runs in the seven games to give him a club-record 16 in the postseason.

In their long comeback from the roster and payroll decimation that followed their 1997 World Series title, the Marlins won 91 regular-season games this year after being 10 under .500 in late April and firing manager Jeff Torborg in May. Now, the 72-year-old Jack McKeon is going to become the first manager since Philadelphia’s Paul Owens in 1983 to lead his team to the World Series after starting the year in another capacity.

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“This is probably the biggest moment of my professional career,” McKeon said, describing it as a gift for his wife of almost 50 years and the rest of his family.

For the Cubs, it was a painful reminder of the 1984 league championship series when McKeon was general manager of the San Diego Padres, who would win three in a row and the pennant after the Cubs won the first two games of what was then a five-game series.

The 2003 Cubs may have believed that they had no connection to that history or any billy goat curse, but the popping corks in the Florida clubhouse said otherwise.

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Cub Calamities

Selected lowlights from one of the most snakebitten teams in professional sports:

*--* 1906 After setting a modern-day record with 116 regular-season victories, the Cubs batted .196 in the World Series and lost in six games to the cross-town rival White Sox, a team dubbed “The Hitless Wonders.” 1929 Leading, 8-0, in the fourth game of the World Series, the Cubs saw the Philadelphia Athletics score 10 times in the seventh inning, aided when Hack Wilson lost a fly ball in the sun, misplaying it into a three-run home run. The Cubs lost the Series in five games. 1932 The Cubs gave up an average of nine runs a game in being swept in the World Series by the Yankees, including Babe Ruth’s alleged “called shot” home run in the third game. 1945 The Cubs lost the World Series in seven games to the Tigers, but this series is still remembered for the Cub fan who couldn’t get a seat, a goat that tavern owner Bill Sianis tried to bring to the fourth game for good luck. When he was turned away, he cast a curse that the Cubs would never return to the World Series. His prophecy has held true for 58 years. 1969 Rising from years of mediocrity, the Cubs of Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins thrilled Chicago fans by taking an 8 1/2-game lead in mid-August, only to finish eight games behind the “Miracle Mets.” 1984 The Cubs appeared on the verge of putting their demons to rest, going up on San Diego, 2-0, in a best-of-five series, and then taking a 3-0 lead in the decisive fifth game. But Leon Durham’s error, a grounder that went between the first baseman’s legs and contributed heavily to the Padres’ winning rally in a 6-3 victory, is a scene that no modern Cub fan can forget. 2003 After winning its NL division series over Atlanta, the Cubs allowed Florida to become only the fourth team in league playoff history to come back from a 3-1 deficit.

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World Series

Schedule

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Best-of-seven series TV: Channel 11

*--* * Game 1: Saturday, Florida at New York or Boston, 5 p.m. * Game 2: Sunday, Florida at New York or Boston, 5 p.m. * Game 3: Tuesday, New York or Boston at Florida, 5:15 p.m. * Game 4: Oct. 22, New York or Boston at Florida, 5:15 p.m. * Game 5: Oct. 23, New York or Boston at Florida, 5:15 p.m. * * Game 6: Oct. 25, Florida at New York or Boston, 5 p.m. * * Game 7: Oct. 26, Florida at New York or Boston, 5 p.m. * *-if necessary. All times Pacific

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