SERIES: NL championship series, Game 5; Cubs lead, 3-1.
Zambrano, who has not pitched well in his first two postseason starts, can earn a place in the Cubs’ storied, but star-crossed history with a victory in Game 5 of the NL championship series against the suddenly struggling Florida Marlins at Pro Player Stadium.
After shocking the San Francisco Giants in four games in the first round, the Marlins won Game 1 from the Cubs at Wrigley Field. But Florida’s magical run has hit a serious snag over the last three games as Chicago has outscored the Marlins 25-10.
Zambrano, who has been reached for nine runs and 20 hits over just 11 2-3 innings in his two playoff starts, is eager to make amends.
“I’ll try not to make the same mistake in (Sunday’s) game,” Zambrano said. “I feel great. This is the postseason and I’m glad to be here and we just have to give thanks to God for being here.”
Having won their first postseason series since the 1908 World Series in the divisional round, the Cubs are set up to reach their first Fall Classic in 58 years. Even if the Marlins stay alive by winning Game 5, they’ll have to contend with both Prior and Wood on full rest back at Wrigley Field in Games 6 and 7.
Only three times in LCS play and five times in the World Series has a club overcome a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series.
“You’ve got to close it out,” said Cubs manager Dusty Baker, who was on the verge of winning a world title with San Francisco last season before watching his club squander a five-run lead in Game 6 and lose Game 7.
“It’s not over yet, big time.”
“I wouldn’t want to count us out yet,” Willis said. “We’ve climbed out of tougher holes than this.”
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Cubs - NL Central champions; beat Atlanta Braves 3-2, division series. Marlins - NL wild card; beat San Francisco Giants 3-1, division series.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Cubs - CF Kenny Lofton (.296, 12 HRs, 46 RBIs), 2B Mark Grudzielanek (.314, 3, 38), RF Sammy Sosa (.279, 40, 103), LF Moises Alou (.280, 22, 91), 3B Ramirez (.272, 27, 106), 1B Randall Simon (.275, 16, 72), SS Alex Gonzalez (.228, 20, 59), C Damian Miller (.233, 9, 36). Marlins - CF Juan Pierre (.305, 1 HR, 41 RBIs), 2B Luis Castillo (.314, 6, 39), C Ivan Rodriguez (.297, 16, 85), 1B Derrek Lee (.271, 31, 92), 3B Miguel Cabrera (.268, 12, 62), RF Juan Encarnacion (.270, 19, 94), LF Jeff Conine (.282, 20, 95), SS Alex Gonzalez (.256, 18, 77).
CUBS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Zambrano (13-11, 3.11 ERA). Zambrano has not received a decision in either of his first two postseason starts, including the Cubs’ 9-8 loss to Florida in Game 1 at Wrigley Field on Tuesday. The right-hander yielded six runs and nine hits, including three homers, over six innings. Zambrano is 1-1 with a 3.59 ERA in three career regular season starts against the Marlins.
MARLINS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Josh Beckett (9-8, 3.04). Beckett surrendered four runs in the first inning of Game 1, but gritted his way through six innings as the Marlins rallied to win. The right-hander did not receive a decision, allowing six runs and eight hits over 6 1-3 innings. Beckett took the loss in Game 1 of the NLDS against San Francisco on Oct. 1 despite surrendering just one run and two hits over seven strong innings. He was outdueled by Giants’ right-hander Jason Schmidt in a 2-0 setback. Beckett was 7-3 with a 2.67 ERA in 14 home starts this year. This is his first playoff start at Pro Player Stadium.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cubs - The Cubs have scored 11 first-inning runs during the series. … Chicago also was one win away from the World Series in 1984. But the Cubs blew a 2-0 lead in the then-best-of-five NL championship series to San Diego. … OF Tom Goodwin is 4-for-5 in his career against RHP Beckett. Marlins - Florida has lost consecutive home games for the first time since July 19-20. … C Rodriguez has at least one hit in all eight of Florida’s postseason games. … The Marlins have never lost a playoff series. They beat the Giants, Atlanta Braves and Cleveland en route to the championship in 1997.
HOME/ROAD RECORDS: Cubs - 44-37 on the road in regular season, 4-1 in postseason. Marlins - 53-28 at home in regular season, 2-2 in postseason.