SERIES: Division Series, Game 5; series tied 2-2.
Kerry Wood didn’t mince words when he was asked about the importance of taking the mound for the fifth and decisive game of the Chicago Cubs’ first-round playoff series with the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.
“You know it’s playoff time,” said Wood, who pitched the Cubs to a series-opening 4-2 win in Atlanta on Tuesday.
“There is no doubt about it. There is no similarities to the regular season game when you go out on the mound. This is why we play the game. We want to be in these situations. We know our stage is out there and we’re ready to go.”
Wood, who yielded two runs and two hits over 7 1-3 brilliant innings in Game 1, will try to help Chicago win its first postseason series since the 1908 World Series.
He expects to have a substantial legion of the Cubs’ faithful fans backing him just as they did in the opener.
“When we go to Atlanta, we have fans that follow us all over,” Wood said before the Braves extended the series with a 6-4 win at Wrigley Field on Saturday.
“The way they were (in Game 1) it was awesome out there. It almost felt like a home game. There was a lot of Cubs fans there. It was nice to see. I expect the same if we have to go back. Like I said earlier, I think they would take that extra one-day trip to go be a part of it.”
The Braves are just glad to be going home after facing elimination in Game 4.
The game came down to a classic confrontation between Braves closer John Smoltz and Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa with one on and two out in the ninth inning. Sosa belted a 3-2 pitch to deep center field, but Andruw Jones settled under it just in front of the warning track for the final out.
“I think the roofs might have come off this place if he had (homered),” Chipper Jones said.
Mike Hampton, who helped Atlanta to a critical 5-3 win in Game 2 on Thursday, will also be working on three days’ rest in Game 5.
Like Wood, the left-hander realizes the importance of pitching Game 5.
“Any time you play in the postseason, I think every game has a lot of pressure in it,” Hampton said. “In NLCS or World Series games, there is a lot of pressure involved in any one of them. I don’t think any other one is greater than the other, unless it’s a deciding game.
“We’re going to our ballpark, which is a plus.”
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 for Pittsburgh and Chicago), 2B Mark Grudzielanek (.314, 3, 38), RF Sosa (.279, 40, 103, 143 Ks), LF Moises Alou (.280, 22, 91), 3B Aramis Ramirez (.272, 27, 106 for Pittsburgh and Chicago), 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: Wood (1-0, 2.45 ERA). Wood will be making his third career postseason start—all against Atlanta. He started Game 3 of the 1998 NLDS against the Braves and gave up a run and three hits in five innings as the Braves won 6-2 to complete a sweep. Wood went 3-1 with a 0.84 ERA in the final month of the regular season. The 26-year-old right-hander led the majors with 266 strikeouts this year. He is 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA in five career regular-season starts against Atlanta.
BRAVES PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Hampton (0-0, 3.00 ERA). Hampton is winless in five career NLDS starts. However, he carried a strong finish to his regular season into Game 2. Hampton allowed two runs and five hits over six innings while striking out nine, including a playoff record-tying six in a row at one point. Hampton won 11 of his last 14 regular-season decisions. He is 8-4 with a 3.06 career ERA against Chicago.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cubs - 1B Karros’ two homers in Game 4 tied the Cubs record for a postseason game. Gary Matthews also had two in 1984 against San Diego. … The Cubs have lost their last 10 postseason series. … OF Sosa is 13-for-29 (.448) lifetime against LHP Hampton in the regular season with six homers and 11 RBIs. Braves - OF Chipper Jones was 1-for-11 in the series before going 2-for-3 with a walk in Game 4. … OF Gary Sheffield, who was hit in the hand by a pitch in Game 3, did not play Saturday. He remains day-to-day for Game 5 with a sore left hand. Sheffield has just two hits in his last 26 postseason at-bats, including 1-for-10 in this series. … Hampton was 7-4 with a 3.26 ERA in 16 home starts this year.
POSTSEASON ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Cubs - 1-1 on the road. Braves - 1-1 at home.