Cubs rout Marlins, even series
CHICAGO — Once the ball flew off Sammy Sosa’s bat and soared toward the juniper bushes in dead center field, there was no telling how far it might go.
And if he keeps hitting like this, there’s no telling how far he might take these Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs put on a startling display of raw power at the plate and on the mound Wednesday night, and behind Mark Prior overwhelmed the Florida Marlins 12-3 to even the National League Championship Series after two games.
Alex Gonzalez homered twice, and Aramis Ramirez also connected for the Cubs. But once again, Sosa woke up Wrigley Field.
A day after he tied the game with a two-out, two-run shot in the ninth for his first postseason home run, he hit a two-run drive in the second inning that went even farther. By a lot.
Sosa launched a 495-foot shot that cleared the ivy-covered wall, sailed over the shrubbery that serves as a batter’s backdrop and threatened to fly completely out of the park. Only a television camera booth kept the ball from becoming a street souvenir.
Teammate Kenny Lofton, who was on second base, shuddered as he turned around to watch it go. Marlins center fielder Juan Pierre didn’t even bother to move.
Coming off his two-hit gem in the opening round against Atlanta, Prior was good enough. Of course, being handed an 11-0 lead after five innings helped the 23-year-old keep his composure.
Now, the best-of-7 series shifts to Pro Player Stadium for Game 3 on Friday night. While the Marlins are one of baseball’s best home teams, the Cubs must like their chances with Kerry Wood pitching against Mark Redman.
Wood pitched a two-hitter and a three-hitter against the Marlins this year, striking out a total of 20, and is 4-0 against them lifetime.
Following the Marlins’ 9-8, 11-inning win in the opener when the teams combined for an NLCS-record 17 extra-base hits, hitters again wore out the gaps and corners.
This time, the big hits went in Chicago’s favor and so did the little ones. Lofton tied an NLCS mark with four hits, all singles.
Prior cruised until the sixth, when Derrek Lee and rookie Miguel Cabrera led off with consecutive home runs that made it 11-2.
Despite the big lead, the sellout crowd of 39,562 was well aware of how resilient the Marlins are. In fact, all four of their wins in this postseason have been comeback victories.
But before anyone could get too worried, the Cubs put any notion of a remarkable rally to rest. Left fielder Moises Alou ran back toward the wall to catch a long drive by pinch-hitter Mike Lowell, and the relay to first caught a stumbling Jeff Conine for an inning-ending double play.
Prior left with two on and no outs in the eighth to a standing ovation, having allowed three runs. Along with shutting down the Marlins, he shook them up by hitting a foul ball that scattered the Florida relievers sitting on a bench down the right-field line.
Cubs manager Dusty Baker found a neat way to finish it off, too. He brought in reliever Mark Guthrie, who served up Lowell’s game-winning, pinch-hit homer in the opener, for the last two outs.
While Prior was in control, Marlins starter Brad Penny was hit hard. He gave up seven runs in two-plus innings and was hooted off the mound.
Marlins reliever Michael Tejera threw the most memorable pitch, however. His mechanics got messed up in the eighth and somehow he threw the ball over Florida’s first-base dugout.
The unseasonably warm weather in Chicago brought out a swarm of ladybugs all around town this week, and they supposedly bring good luck. Whatever, the fates swung in the Cubs’ favor.
Marlins shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who made two sensational plays in the late innings to keep Game 1 tied, had two balls tick off his glove for early singles. Both runners wound up scoring.
Mark Grudzielanek’s hit helped load the bases in the first inning, and Randall Simon sweetly slapped a two-out, two-run single to left.
Lofton bounced an RBI single off Gonzalez’s glove in the second and stole second. He didn’t have to run nearly as hard when Sosa connected with two outs.
Prior and Penny came out zinging and even with Wrigley buzzing, the sound of fastballs popping into catcher’s mitts echoed throughout the ballpark.
How hard were they throwingâ¢ Pierre tried to bunt the first pitch of the game and the ball flew off his bat and landed in foul territory — beyond third base.
The radar gun clocked Prior at 94 mph and showed Penny slightly faster. Not that it was a good thing for Penny — as the story goes, this season Marlins manager Jack McKeon had the radar readings shut off at Pro Player when Penny pitched so he wouldn’t become fixated and overthrow.