SERIES: National League Division Series, Game 3; tied 1-1.
Now he’ll try to outpitch the four-time NL Cy Young Award winner as the Cubs resume their best-of-five playoff series with Maddux and the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field.
The 23-year-old Prior, an 18-game winner in his first full major league season, showed the type of dominance Maddux exhibited in going 20-11 with a 3.18 ERA for the Cubs 11 seasons ago.
After capturing the first of his four straight Cy Youngs, Maddux moved on to Atlanta, where he has helped the Braves to the last 10 of their record 12 consecutive division titles.
Prior led Chicago to its first division crown since 1989, and first playoff berth since ’98 by going 10-1 with a 1.52 ERA in 11 starts after coming off the disabled list in early August.
“He’s one of the few that has great stuff but also pitches,” Maddux said of Prior. “I’m going to try to beat the lineup, not necessarily the pitcher. There is no question he is very good at what he does.”
“Watching (Maddux) work is pretty awesome because he doesn’t have an overpowering fastball, but he knows how to change speeds, knows how to make guys expand their zone and make them do what he wants them to do. … He’s kind of a student-professor. He knows every hitter, every ballpark. He knows every umpire.”
Maddux, now 37, became the first pitcher in major league history to win at least 15 games in 16 straight seasons, a streak he began with the Cubs back in 1988.
“Greg to me is exactly the same pitcher as I saw with us in ’93, when we got him,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “He looks exactly the same.”
On Friday night, Maddux will be making his 31st postseason appearance—all but two as a starter—while Prior takes the mound for the first time in the playoffs.
The Cubs had a chance to leave Atlanta on Wednesday with a commanding 2-0 series lead, but Mark DeRosa’s two-run double in the bottom of the eighth inning helped the Braves pull even with a 5-3 victory.
“We would prefer to go home 2-0, but usually what you hope for is 1-1,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.
Chicago has lost 10 straight postseason series since winning the world championship in 1908.
Atlanta, which last failed to reach the playoffs in 1990, knows carrying over the momentum from Wednesday night will be difficult in Chicago.
“With Prior on the mound, a hostile environment, it is going to be pretty tough,” DeRosa said.
Maddux is 51-33 with a 3.15 ERA in 109 career starts at Wrigley Field. He won both of his starts against the Cubs this season, including a 13-3 victory on July 10.
“It’s been over a decade since I pitched here last (for the Cubs),” Maddux said. “I do know the ballpark probably as well as any road park in the league.
“We have a little momentum on our side right now, and we need to try to keep it down to a three-game series. I’m going to go out there and pitch the way I know and give us a chance to win.”
Maddux is 11-13 with a 3.23 ERA in the postseason.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Cubs - NL Central champions. Braves - NL East champions.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Cubs - CF Kenny Lofton (.296, 12 HRs, 46 RBIs, 30 steals), 2B Mark Grudzielanek (.314, 3, 38), RF Sammy Sosa (.279, 40, 103, 143 Ks), LF Moises Alou (.280, 22, 91), 3B Aramis Ramirez (.272, 27, 106), 1B Eric Karros (.286, 12, 40), SS Alex Gonzalez (.228, 20, 59, 123 Ks), C Damian Miller (.233, 9, 36). Braves - SS Rafael Furcal (.292, 15, 61, 130 runs, 25 steals, 10 triples), 2B Marcus Giles (.316, 21, 69, 49 doubles), RF Gary Sheffield (.330, 39, 132), LF Chipper Jones (.305, 27, 106), CF Andruw Jones (.277, 36, 116, 125 Ks), C Javy Lopez (.328, 43, 109), 1B Robert Fick (.269, 11, 80), 3B Vinny Castilla (.277, 22, 76).
CUBS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Prior (18-6, 2.43 ERA). The right-hander has lost both of his career starts against the Braves, including a 9-5 setback on July 11 in which he was pounded for six runs and six hits in 4 2-3 innings.
BRAVES PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Maddux (16-11, 3.96 ERA). Maddux is 11-3 with a 2.38 ERA in 20 career starts against the Cubs. He limited them to four earned runs and 11 hits over 13 innings in two outings this season.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cubs - OF Sosa is hitting just .194 (6-for-31) with three homers and seven RBIs career against RHP Maddux. … OF Alou is 3-for-8 in this series, after hitting just .190 (8-for-42) in his three previous NLDS appearances. … The Cubs did win the NL pennant in 1945, but lost the World Series to Detroit. Braves - 2B Giles did not start Wednesday’s game after bruising his thigh in the opener, but did pinch-hit in the sixth inning. He took ground balls Thursday and said he expects to be back in the lineup for Game 3. … LHP Mike Hampton’s six straight strikeouts in Game 2 tied the postseason mark shared by Cincinnati’s Hod Eller (1919 World Series), Baltimore Moe Drabowski (’66 Series) and St. Louis Todd Worrell (’85 Series). … C Lopez is 4-for-8 in this series.