Marlins take classic game from Cubs

Posted: Wednesday, October 08, 2003

CHICAGO Sammy Sosa took a signature hop, his ball soaring way over the ivy-covered wall and turning a packed Waveland Avenue into Bedlam Boulevard. At long last, his big October moment had arrived.

Too bad for the Chicago Cubs, he only tied the score.

With the old ballpark still shaking after Sosa's tremendous, two-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning, Mike Lowell wrecked the Wrigley Field party in a hurry.

Lowell led off the 11th with a pinch-hit home run that sent the Florida Marlins over the Cubs 9-8 Tuesday night in the NL championship series opener.

''It just kept going back and forth. Weird,'' Lowell said. ''It was kind of like a boxing match.''

In a game featuring seven homers, four triples and six doubles, Sosa's shot was clearly the most dramatic. Everyone within earshot went crazy well, almost everyone.

''We didn't celebrate, for sure,'' Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. ''I think there was a pause right there.''

The Marlins, though, were far from finished. Having overcome an early four-run deficit with a homer and five RBIs by playoff star Ivan Rodriguez, they won it with Lowell.

''Despite the way we've been playing, they just kept coming back, coming back,'' Sosa said. ''They have a lot of heart for a young team.''

Too much for the Cubs in Game 1.

''That's playoff baseball,'' Chicago manager Dusty Baker said. ''It was full of emotional twists. I'm sure everyone is emotionally exhausted.

''It's disheartening. We had an opportunity to win the game,'' he said. ''Sad we came out on the short end, very sad.''

Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Wednesday night with Brad Penny pitching for Florida and Mark Prior going for the Cubs.

An All-Star third baseman, Lowell missed almost all of the final four weeks because of a broken left hand, and has played sparingly in the postseason. He was ready for his first pinch-hitting appearance this year, batting for winning pitcher Ugueth Urbina and launching a drive over the center-field wall off Mark Guthrie.

The sellout crowd of 39,567 started rocking as Moises Alou homered in a four-run first. But the Marlins, who posted three comeback wins over San Francisco in the opening round, stormed back when Rodriguez, rookie Miguel Cabrera and Juan Encarnacion homered in a five-run third.

''These guys don't quit, and it was very evident today,'' McKeon said.

Braden Looper pitched the 11th for a save, giving the Marlins a win and a nice omen. The last 10 teams to win the NLCS opener have reached the World Series.

After avoiding Barry Bonds in the first round, McKeon said he would pitch to Sosa in this series.

And it was a good decision up until Slammin' Sammy took his final swing.

Sosa tied it with a no-doubt drive to left field, connecting off Urbina.

Sosa pointed to the sky as he touched home plate, as much in joy as in relief. The slugger with 539 career homers had been only 5-for-31 with zero homers and one RBI in postseason play, and his playoff slumps were starting to cloud his regular season accomplishments.

''I just tried to stay calm,'' he said. ''Coming through with two outs, everybody was ready to go home.''

As Sosa trotted to right field for the top of the 10th, his fans in the right-field bleachers bowed and he doffed his cap.

Rodriguez put the Marlins ahead 8-6 with yet another big postseason hit, a two-run single in the ninth. He delivered right after a disputed play that put the Cubs in jeopardy.

With runners on first and second and one out, Luis Castillo hit a slow grounder to second baseman Mark Grudzielanek. He fielded it cleanly, but fumbled it as he tried to tag Juan Pierre and start an inning-ending double play.

Pierre scampered to second as the bases became loaded. Baker argued umpire Fieldin Culbreth's call to no avail.

Baker said he thought Grudzielanek had control when he made the tagged. Told the replays showed the ball was loose, Baker said, ''Well, the umpire was correct.''

Rodriguez took advantage with a liner past Grudzielanek that broke a 6-all tie.

''It's nice to start with a win,'' Rodriguez said. ''Now we've got to concentrate on trying to win tomorrow, too.''

Alex Gonzalez, with a history of clutch homers for the Cubs, came through again with a two-out, two-run shot in the sixth off starter Josh Beckett. His opposite-field shot into the basket hanging off the right-field wall made it 6-all.

Marlins shortstop Alex Gonzalez had a couple of key contributions, making two neat stops late in the game to keep it tied.

Down 4-0 in the third, Florida struck back in startling fashion three homers in a span of only 13 pitches! And they did it against a pitcher who rarely serves them up about one every 24 innings.

Pierre began the comeback with a one-out triple and Castillo walked. That brought up Rodriguez, the Marlins' first-round star, and brought out pitching coach Larry Rothschild to visit excitable Carlos Zambrano, a 22-year-old righty who makes a habit of hopping around the mound.

Rothschild had barely made it back to the dugout when Rodriguez hit a liner into the left-center field bleachers for a three-run shot. An out later, Cabrera and Encarnacion connected for consecutive home runs.

Jeff Conine made the last out of the inning on a lazy, routine fly. The fans, in shock after the Marlins' power show, still gasped when the ball left the bat.

Notes: At 20, Cabrera became the second-youngest player to homer in postseason history. Andruw Jones was 19 when he connected for Atlanta in the 1996 World Series. ... Plate umpire and crew chief Jerry Crawford left the game in the fourth inning after feeling ill. Mike Reilly moved in from right field to take his place.

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