ATLANTA (AP)—Cubs win! Cubs win!
A road game in the playoffs, no less.
Cheered on by thousands of their well-traveled fans, Chicago won a postseason game outside of Wrigley Field for the first time since 1945 when Kerry Wood led the Cubs past the Atlanta Braves 4-2 on Tuesday night in the opener of their NL division series.
Wood did it all—on the mound and at the plate. He allowed just two hits in 7 1-3 innings to the NL’s best offensive team. He drove in the go-ahead runs with a double off 21-game winner Russ Ortiz in the sixth.
“He wanted this badly,” said Dusty Baker, in his first year as Chicago’s manager. “A good pitcher turned into a great pitcher.”
Thousands of Cubs fans roared when Wood drove in two runs with a drive to the wall in left-center, breaking a 1-all tie.
“They’ve been following us all year,” Wood said. “It sounded like half and half.”
Offense aside, it was Wood’s work on the mound that really stood out. He completely throttled the high-scoring Braves, a team that had six players with 20 homers and four with 100 RBIs during the regular season.
Wood struck out 11 in 7 1-3 innings. The only major slip-up came in the third, when Marcus Giles homered.
“To give up two hits in 7 1-3 innings to that team and also drive in the winning run, I’d say he was pretty locked in for this game,” said Joe Borowski, who struck out the side in the ninth for the save.
Trailing 4-1, Atlanta scored a run and knocked out Wood without getting a hit. A questionable call at first on a potential inning-ending double play allowed the run to score.
“You know this can happen,” Braves closer John Smoltz said. “You can look at it like the glass is half-empty or half-full. We’ve won three out of four before.”
Lost in the hoopla over Chicago’s 95-year drought without a World Series title was this little nugget: The Cubs had lost eight straight postseason road games since Claude Passeau pitched a one-hitter to beat Detroit in Game 3 of 1945 World Series.
Of course, the Cubs lost that World Series, falling to the Tigers in seven games. They’ve lost 10 straight postseason series since winning their last World Series title in 1908.
The Cubs will go to Game 2 on Wednesday night with a chance to take command of the best-of-five series. At worst, they’ll head to Chicago with a split at Turner Field and the next two games before their adoring Wrigley rowdies.
Actually, the Cubs must feel like they’re already at home. All those Chicago fans contributed to an overflow crowd of 52,043 at Turner Field, which had its first postseason sellout in three years.
While Atlanta’s tomahawk choppers did their best to drown out the Chicago contingent, they didn’t stand a chance when Wood became the first Cubs pitcher to drive in the game-winning run in a postseason game since Orval Overall in the 1907 World Series.
“I knew if they traveled from Chicago to Puerto Rico, they would go from Chicago to Atlanta,” Baker said.
Ortiz escaped all sorts of trouble through the first five innings—the most serious jam coming in the fourth when the Cubs loaded the bases with no outs. Alex Gonzalez took a called third strike, Paul Bako went down swinging and Wood whiffed to end the threat.
The Cubs started the sixth in identical fashion, loading the bases with no outs on consecutive singles by Moises Alou, Aramis Ramirez and Eric Karros. Hoping to change the dynamics, Baker sent up Randall Simon as a pinch-hitter for Gonzalez, but he struck out swinging.
Ortiz had a chance to get out of the jam when Bako hit a slow grounder to the right of first baseman Robert Fick. But the converted outfielder couldn’t make the scoop, though second baseman Giles scooped up the ball and got Bako at first.
Alou scored the tying run, breaking Ortiz’s 19-inning scoreless streak dating to the regular season. Two pitches later, Ortiz was knocked out by Wood.
“The 3-6-1 double play is always a tough one to turn,” Ortiz said. “But they got just one run out of it, with the pitcher coming up. So I thought we were still all right. But I threw a ball right over the plate, and he took advantage of it.”
It was a fitting picture for the Braves, winners of 12 straight division titles but haunted by the chances that got away. Since beginning its unprecedented run in 1991, Atlanta has just one World Series title.
Last year, Ortiz beat the Braves twice to lead Baker’s San Francisco Giants to an opening-round playoff victory. Acquired during the offseason, the right-hander had his best year—but no immediate impact on Atlanta’s postseason fortunes.
Ortiz followed his usual routine. He fell behind hitters, gave up eight hits and walked three, and kept finding ways to get out of trouble.
Until the sixth, that is.
It was too much to overcome against Wood, who came into the postseason with a streak of 17 consecutive scoreless innings.
“He was really awesome tonight,” Bako said. “I think the key to him tonight was he was throwing his fastball in and out on both sides of theplate.”
Giles tumbled over first trying to beat out a grounder in the sixth, causing what the team described as “bumps and bruises.” He was replaced by Jesse Garcia and will be re-evaluated Wednesday. … Jaret Wright, who started for Cleveland as a rookie in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, pitched a scoreless inning for the Braves. … Passeau died exactly a month ago inMississippi at age 94.