October 14, 2003

Cubs Win! Cubs Win! Wait...what?

After seven innings of last night's game, I would have given anything to have been a Cubs fan in Chicago. They were six outs away from their first World Series appearance since 1945 and they had Mark Prior on the mound, mowing down Marlins left and right.

About 15 minutes later, had I been able to become that Cubs fan in Chicago, I probably would have killed myself.

Mark Prior got Mike Mordecai to fly out for the first out of the 8th inning, and suddenly the Cubs were just five outs away. At that point, Prior had the following line for the game:

 IP     H     R     BB     SO     HR

7.1 3 0 2 6 0

And then, just like that, the wheels came flying off.

Prior gave up a double to Juan Pierre and the next batter, Luis Castillo, hit a fly ball foul down the left field line. Moises Alou had a play on it, but a fan reached out and knocked it away. It wasn't "fan interference" in that the ball was in the stands and the fan had a right to it, but it was fan interference in that there should have been two outs in the inning.

Castillo ended up working a 9-pitch walk, and the rest of the inning went like this:




Intentional Walk

Sac Fly

Intentional Walk



Pop Out

By the time Mike Remlinger got Luis Castillo to pop out to mercifully end the inning, Mark Prior was long gone. And it was 8-3 Marlins.

It was really very painful to watch from here in my dorm room in Minnesota. I can't begin to imagine how excruciating it much have been for someone sitting in Wrigley Field. To go from emotions that high, from the excitement of having a trip to the World Series just five outs way, all the way down to seeing the Marlins score eight runs in an inning must have been simply horrendous.

And to know that there should have been two outs in the inning before even a single run had crossed the plate probably makes it fifty times worse. The person who got in Moises Alou's way is no doubt going to become the most hated man in Chicago for the next 100 years or so. It's very likely things would have been much different if Alou had been able to make that catch for out number two, but that fan is going to get a lot more heat than he deserves.

For one thing, he interfered on a foul ball. It wasn't as if he got in Alou's way and pulled in a home run or something. And even if Alou had made the catch, there would have been just two outs in the inning, so assuming the second out was made does not exactly put an end to the possibility that the Cubs pitching-staff completely implodes.

Really, if you want someone to get good and angry at, try Alex Gonzalez, who made an error on a fairly routine ground ball that would have been, once again, the second out of the inning. Of course, you try telling that to a Cubs fan today and then let me know how it went when you get out of the hospital.

The way last night's game ended for Chicago, with a trip to the World Series being taken from them when they could all feel it so close strikes me as the sort of loss that could linger for a little while. In that sense, the bad news for the Cubs is that they have to play the Marlins again tonight. The good news is that they will have Kerry Wood on the mound.

On the other hand, the other bad news is that they had Mark Prior on the mound last night and...well, that didn't work out so well for them. It was fairly amazing to see someone who had been pitching that well simply lose it so abruptly, particularly when that person is Mark Prior.

I can't really tell you why it happened, but I will say that maybe Prior wouldn't have fallen apart in the late innings all of a sudden like that if Dusty Baker hadn't made him throw an extra 40 meaningless pitches in his last start. Did that extra work in a blowout cause Prior to tire a few pitches earlier than he would have had he not thrown as much? We'll never know, but it's certainly possible.

I do have a completely ridiculous theory as to why everything fell apart for the Cubs last night. You see, one of the best comedians on the planet, Bernie Mac, sang Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the seventh inning stretch. When he got to the part where he was supposed to sing, "root root root for the CUBBIES..." he threw everyone a changeup and sang "root root root for the CHAMPIONS..."

Personally, I knew it was over as soon as I heard that. A jinx like that from Bernie Mac is simply too strong, even for Mark Prior.

(Yes, I'm kidding...sort of)

The Game Seven matchup tonight will feature Kerry Wood versus Mark Redman.

Wood is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in the playoffs thus far and the Cubs beat Redman and the Marlins in his last start, Game Three. However, neither Wood nor Redman were involved in the decision, because that game wasn't decided until the 11th inning. Redman actually out-pitched Wood that game. They both pitched 6.2 innings, but Redman gave up just 2 runs, while Wood surrendered 3.

If I had to bet on one team for tonight's game, it would be the Cubs, simply because of Kerry Wood and the possibility that he could go out and simply dominate for nine innings. But Mark Redman has pitched well this year, he held his own against the Cubs earlier in the series and the Florida Marlins have shown, time and time again in this post-season, that they are not a team that is to be taken lightly.

This has been one hell of a series in one hell of a post-season, and the best parts haven't even arrived yet! Seriously, how great is baseball?

Oh, and there was this other game yesterday too...

If nothing else, both games yesterday showed just how quickly a team's fortunes can change.

At the start of the 8th inning, the Cubs looked headed for the World Series. A few moments later they were down 8-3 and the only thing they were headed for was Game Seven.

Before yesterday's game, the Boston Red Sox were seemingly in a very good position to beat the Yankees. They needed to win 2 of the 3 remaining games, and they had Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez set to take the mound in two of those games.

Well, Derek Lowe and the Red Sox lost to the Yankees yesterday. The series is now 3-2 New York, Boston's backs are up against the wall and now they must win two games in a row, the first of which will be started by John Burkett.

"Two out of three with Pedro and Lowe" sounded a whole lot better than "two in a row with Burkett and Pedro," didn't it?

Boston is still not out of this thing yet. John Burkett is not the type of pitcher you want on the mound in an elimination game, but he was in the same position against the A's in the first-round and, although he did not pitch well, the Red Sox still won the game.

Burkett made two starts against New York this year, one good one and one bad one. The bad one came in early July, when he gave up 4 runs on 10 hits in just 5.1 innings, as the Red Sox lost 7-1. The good one came a few weeks later, when he shut the Yankees out for 5.2 innings, as the Red Sox won 5-4.

No one in their right mind is counting on John Burkett to pitch 7 or 8 shutout innings today. I bet Boston would gladly take 5 innings of pitching with minimal damage, maybe 2 or 3 runs. At that point Grady Little can empty out the bullpen. Mike Timlin, Scott Williamson, Alan Embree, Bronson Arroyo, Scott Sauerbeck and maybe even Tim Wakefield, Boston will no doubt pull out all the stops.

And if Burkett gets into trouble before he can even complete a modest amount of innings, I have no doubt his hook will be incredibly short. Of course, if that happens, the Red Sox are in trouble any way, because it can become a 4-0 or 5-0 game in a hurry.

For New York, Andy Pettitte will get the start. He pitched very well against Boston in Game Two, holding them to 2 runs in 6.2 innings. He's also left-handed, and the Red Sox have struggled quite a bit against lefties in the playoffs thus far, including against David Wells yesterday.

Wells was at his best, flicking that slow curve over the plate all afternoon. He wasn't getting all the calls he would have liked from home-plate umpire Joe West, but he kept pumping curveballs over the plate. Those slow curves must have looked so good to Boston's hitters, but they just kept pounding them into the ground. They had several big chances to bust through with some runs, but Wells got the job done each and every time.

The offense that led the majors in runs and had the highest slugging percentage of any team in baseball history now has 32 runs in 10 games, and they are hitting just .230/.299/.392 in the post-season. They are hitting below .200 against left-handed pitching.

It's not looking good for Red Sox fans right now. However, this is an offense that has been capable of pounding out enough runs so that Boston's starting pitcher is made irrelevant. It's going to be very hard to do that against a left-handed pitcher as good as Andy Pettitte, but that might be Boston's only chance.

Of course, I don't believe in any of that "Curse of the Bambino" crap, but if John Burkett somehow wins Game Six and then Pedro loses Game Seven, I think I might become a believer. I know I'll be rooting for Burkett, simply because the idea of another Clemens-Pedro matchup to decide it all, in Yankee Stadium, is pretty damn exciting.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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