SERIES: NL championship series, Game 7; tied 3-3.
Wood will try to help his team recover from an epic collapse in Game 6 and send the Cubs to their first World Series since 1945 when they take on the resilient Florida Marlins at Wrigley Field.
The stage appeared to be set for a raucous celebration both in and around Wrigley on Tuesday night. But for the Cubs, a team that has not reached the World Series in 58 years and has not won one since 1908, things always appear to go wrong just when they seem on the verge of ending their drought.
An improbable 8-3 loss in Game 6 emphasized that point, and dropped the Cubs to 1-7 in potential series clinchers since Game 7 of the ’45 World Series against Detroit.
Guarding a 3-0 lead with staff ace Mark Prior on the mound and one out in the eighth inning, a bizarre sequence of events, followed by some timely hitting by the Marlins, catapulted Florida to an eight-run outburst.
A potential foul out was literally snatched by a fan just before it dropped into the glove of left fielder Moises Alou. Though the ball was in foul ground, Alou was incensed that a sure out had been taken away.
What followed was the stuff that has many believing the Cubs are a cursed franchise.
Ivan Rodriguez’s RBI single and an error on an infield grounder by Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez sparked a series of hits that led to Chicago’s demise. Derrek Lee’s two-run double to left tied the game, Jeff Conine’s sacrifice fly gave Florida the lead and Mike Mordecai’s bases-clearing double to left-center silenced Cubs fans.
“It has nothing to do with the curse,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker insisted. “It has to do with fan interference and a very uncharacteristic error by Gonzalez. History has nothing to do with this game, nothing.”
Now it’s up to Wood to prove Baker right.
The hard-throwing righty is unbeaten in his first three postseason starts, going 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA while striking out 25 and walking 10. Wood, who pitched the series clincher against Atlanta in Game 5 of the ALDS, allowed three runs and seven hits over 6 2-3 innings in Chicago’s 5-4, 11-inning win in Game 3 at Pro Player Stadium.
While much has been made of the Cubs’ pursuit of an elusive pennant, the Marlins have quietly resumed their storybook season.
After stunning the San Francisco Giants in four games in the NLDS, the Marlins appeared to be all but out of serious contention in this series after losing Games 3 and 4 at home.
However, Josh Beckett’s Game 5 shutout in Florida, followed by Tuesday’s improbable comeback has the Marlins on the verge of their second trip to the World Series since entering the majors as an expansion franchise in 1993.
“Well, I think it’s an example of what this club is made of,” Florida manager Jack McKeon said.
“They’ve got a lot of character, and not taking anything away from the Cubs, it was a heck of a ballgame out there tonight. And these guys come in here, and we were supposed to just fall over and play dead. I told you, these guys, they’re tough. They’re going to battle you all the way. We didn’t come in to play one game. We came in to make it the seven-game series, and thank God we’re going to do that.”
Florida won the 1997 World Series as a wild card.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Marlins - NL wild card; beat San Francisco Giants 3-1, division series. Cubs - NL Central champions; beat Atlanta Braves 3-2, division series.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Marlins - CF Juan Pierre (.305, 1 HR, 41 RBIs), 2B Luis Castillo (.314, 6, 39), C Rodriguez (.297, 16, 85), 1B Lee (.271, 31, 92), 3B Miguel Cabrera (.268, 12, 62), RF Juan Encarnacion (.270, 19, 94), LF Conine (.282, 20, 95), SS Alex Gonzalez (.256, 18, 77). Cubs - CF Kenny Lofton (.296, 12 HRs, 46 RBIs), 2B Mark Grudzielanek (.314, 3, 38), RF Sammy Sosa (.279, 40, 103), LF Alou (.280, 22, 91), 3B Aramis Ramirez (.272, 27, 106), 1B Randall Simon (.275, 16, 72), SS Alex Gonzalez (.228, 20, 59), C Damian Miller (.233, 9, 36).
MARLINS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Mark Redman (14-9, 3.59 ERA). Redman held his own against Wood in Game 3, yielding two runs and eight hits over 6 2-3 innings. The left-hander has allowed four runs and 15 hits over 12 2-3 innings in two postseason starts. He went 8-5 with a 4.27 ERA in 14 road starts this season.
CUBS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Wood (14-11, 3.20). Wood has never lost to the Marlins, going 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA in five career regular season starts before his solid performance in Game 3. He is just 6-8 with a 3.56 ERA in 18 starts at Wrigley this year.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Marlins - C Rodriguez has tied the NLCS record of nine RBIs set by San Francisco’s Matt Williams in 1989. … This is the Marlins’ first Game 7 since the ’97 World Series, which they won 3-2 over Cleveland in 11 innings. … 1B Lee is 1-for-11 in his career against RHP Woods. Cubs - While managing San Francisco last year, Baker was five outs from winning the World Series before Anaheim staged a late rally to win Game 6 and then take Game 7. … The Cubs have outscored the Marlins 12-0 in the first inning of this series. … In 1969, the Cubs collapsed late in the season and were passed in the standings by New York’s “Miracle” Mets. In 1973, the Mets once again overtook the Cubs. In 1984, the Cubs led the Padres 2-0 in the NL championship series—only to lose three straight games in San Diego. The Cubs returned to the playoffs in 1989 and 1998, but failed to win a series either time.
HOME/ROAD RECORDS: Marlins - 46-35 on the road in regular season, 3-2 in postseason; Cubs - 44-37 at home in regular season, 2-3 in postseason.