SERIES: Division Series, Game 4; Cubs lead, 2-1.
The Chicago Cubs are one win away from ending a 95-year drought in the postseason.
Matt Clement looks to complete a shocking upset of the Atlanta Braves and lead the Cubs to their first playoff series victory since winning the World Series in 1908 when the teams meet in Game 4 of their best-of-five series.
The Cubs seized control of the series with a 3-1 win on Friday. Mark Prior threw a two-hitter, outpitching Greg Maddux and becoming the first Cubs pitcher to toss a complete game in the postseason since Claude Passeau beat the Detroit Tigers 3-1 in Game 3 of the 1945 World Series.
The Braves, who led the NL in every major offensive category this season— batting average (.284), home runs (a franchise-record 235) and runs (a franchise-record 907)—have managed just three runs in their two losses. They beat the Cubs 5-3 in Game 2 on Wednesday.
Nonetheless, Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said he isn’t too worried about his team.
“I don’t feel like we’re scrambling. I’m not down at all,” he said. “All we have to do is win two games and we’ve done that hundreds of times.”
The Cubs hope Clement can continue to silence Atlanta’s bats and lead Chicago to its first NL Championship Series since 1989.
The right-hander earned his career-high 14th win and clinched the Cubs’ NL Central title on Sept. 27, giving up two runs—one earned—and seven hits in 7 2-3 innings of a 7-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Clement said he’ll enjoy pitching in another crucial game.
“Definitely, you obviously want to be in that game where you can clinch it,” he said.
Clement, who is making his first postseason appearance, has been battling a sore groin, but said it shouldn’t be a factor Saturday.
“The groin is improving, and, you know, I don’t think it’s perfect, but I don’t think it’s something that’s going to hold me back at all while I’m out there pitching,” he said.
Russ Ortiz will pitch on three days’ rest for the Braves.
Cox said before Friday’s game he would most likely use Ortiz instead of rookie Horacio Ramirez, who might be needed in the bullpen because left-hander Kent Mercker is struggling with a bad back. With his team facing elimination, Cox has little choice but to turn to Ortiz, who won an NL-high 21 games during the regular season, even though Ramirez did not appear Friday.
“Right now, I would lean toward Ortiz and (Game 2 starter Mike) Hampton coming back, also,” Cox said before Friday’s game. “Both of them said yesterday they felt great and could come back very easily. Both of them had low pitch counts, six innings, so they should be fine.”
Ortiz gave up four earned runs and eight hits in 5 2-3 innings of a 4-2 loss in Game 1 on Tuesday. The right-hander fell behind 16 of the 27 batters he faced and threw just 59 of his 104 pitches for strikes.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Braves - NL East champions. Cubs - NL Central 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 Ramirez (.272, 27, 106), 1B Eric Karros (.286, 12, 40), SS Alex Gonzalez (.228, 20, 59, 123 Ks), C Paul Bako (.229, 0, 17). Braves - SS Rafael Furcal (.292, 15, 61, 130 runs, 25 steals, 10 triples), 2B Marcus Giles (.316, 21, 69, 49 doubles), RF 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).
BRAVES PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Ortiz (21-7, 3.81 ERA). Ortiz is 2-3 with a 5.40 ERA in eight career appearances, including seven starts, against the Cubs. He is 2-1 with a 3.09 ERA in four career appearances in the divisional round of the playoffs.
CUBS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Clement (14-12, 4.11 ERA). Clement is 3-2 with a 3.86 ERA in nine career starts against the Braves. In his only start against Atlanta this season, he gave up three runs—two earned—and five hits in eight innings of a 7-3 win on July 12.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cubs - C Bako will likely start Saturday in place of C Damian Miller, who is still bothered by a sore hip flexor and groin. Manager Dusty Baker wants an agile catcher for RHP Clement, whose pitches tend to move. … OF Alou is batting .417 (5-for-12) with two runs and an RBI in the series. … 2B Grudzielanek is 11-for-28 (.393) with two doubles, a homer and six RBIs lifetime against RHP Ortiz. Braves - Ortiz went 2-0 with a 2.19 ERA against the Braves in last season’s division series while with the Giants. … INF Mark DeRosa, who went 2-for-5 with a double and two RBIs Wednesday, got a hit as a pinch-hitter Friday, and scored the Braves’ lone run. … 2B Giles, INF DeRosa and C Lopez are the only Atlanta position players who are hitting above .300 in the series.
HOME/ROAD RECORDS: Braves - 46-35 on the road; Cubs - 44-37 at home.