The Chicago Cubs are not making things easy on themselves in their attempt to make the playoffs.
Coming off two straight extra-inning games against one of the NL’s worst teams, the Cubs try to recover from a costly loss and at least maintain control of the wild-card race as they face the New York Mets.
Mark Prior threw 7 2-3 scoreless innings and Chicago was one out away from beating the Mets on Saturday, but closer LaTroy Hawkins gave up a game-tying three-run homer to Victor Diaz in the bottom of the ninth. New York, which entered the contest 20 games under .500, went on to win 4-3 in the 11th on Craig Brazell’s first major league home run.
“It’s definitely something you dream about as a kid,” Brazell said. “As soon as it went out, my heart started thumping as fast as it could.”
One day earlier, the Cubs had to score one run in the seventh to force extra innings and ended up winning 2-1 in the 10th on Derrek Lee’s RBI single.
A win Saturday would have kept the Cubs 1 1/2 games ahead of San Francisco for the wild card.
Instead, their lead over the Giants slipped to a half-game, meaning the Cubs must win Sunday to assure themselves of staying on top in that chase. San Francisco closes a three-game set against Los Angeles on Sunday.
“You can’t be comfortable now until your team crosses the finish line,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. ”(Being comfortable) is the kiss of death for me.”
The Cubs, looking to make the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 1907-08, had won eight straight against New York and five in a row overall before Saturday’s defeat.
“Tomorrow is big,” Prior said. “It’s going to be a battle. The Mets aren’t going to roll over for us.”
Kerry Wood will start for the Cubs despite leaving the team in Pittsburgh on Wednesday to head back to Chicago to have his sore back examined. The right-hander had complained of pain brought on by a soft hotel bed.
The Cubs should be happy Wood is healthy enough to pitch Sunday, considering he’s gone 5-1 with a 1.45 ERA in eight career starts against the Mets. He held them to four hits and struck out nine in seven innings in Chicago’s 3-0 victory on April 24.
Wood will face a Mets offense which has totaled 14 runs in its last seven games, though New York has won three of four.