CHICAGO (AP)—Sammy Sosa called it a stroke of luck. More like the stroke of a slugger primed to lead his team deep into the postseason.
Sosa struck again Wednesday night, this time clearing the juniper bushes in dead center field with a 495-foot shot that left teammate Kenny Lofton shuddering.
And that was just the beginning for the Chicago Cubs.
“I was so happy that I had a chance to produce,” Sosa said. “As soon as I put the swing on the ball, the ball was out of the ballpark.
“I’ve been lucky. I’ve been seeing good pitches and I’ve hit them out,” he said.
He’s had plenty of company, too.
“This is the prime time to do it,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. “He really hasn’t had a hot streak all year. It seems when he does, he hits a home run every at-bat.
“I’m hoping it’s on the way. Boy, it’s coming right on time,” he said.
A day after he tied the game with a two-out, two-run shot in the ninth for his first postseason home run, Sosa hit a two-run drive in the second inning that went even farther.
By a lot.
Sosa launched a drive that soared over the ivy-covered wall, sailed above the shrubbery that serves as a batter’s backdrop and threatened to fly completely out of the park. Only a television camera booth kept the ball from becoming a street souvenir.
Lofton, who was on third base, shuddered as he watched it go. Marlins center fielder Juan Pierre didn’t even bother to move.
“He hit that a mile. He can do that every once in a while,” Gonzalez said.
Coming off his two-hit gem in the opening round against Atlanta, Prior was good enough. Of course, being handed an 11-0 lead after five innings helped the 23-year-old keep his composure.
“We fell behind too early. When you’re down 8-0 in the third inning, you’re in trouble,” Marlins manager Jack McKeon said.
Asked whether he had reconsidered his strategy about pitching to Sosa, McKeon bucked up.
“Did he beat us? Enough said,” he said.
Now, the best-of-seven series shifts to Pro Player Stadium for Game 3 Friday night. While the Marlins are one of baseball’s best home teams, the Cubs must like their chances with Kerry Wood pitching against Mark Redman.
Wood pitched a two-hitter and a three-hitter against the Marlins this year, striking out a total of 20, and is 4-0 against them lifetime.
Following the Marlins’ 9-8, 11-inning win in the opener when the teams combined for an NLCS-record 17 extra-base hits, hitters again wore out the gaps and corners.
This time, the big hits went in Chicago’s favor and so did the little ones. Lofton tied an NLCS mark with four hits, all singles.
Despite the big lead, the sellout crowd of 39,562 was well aware of how resilient the Marlins are. In fact, all four of their wins in this postseason have been comeback victories.
But before anyone could get too worried, the Cubs put any notion of a remarkable rally to rest. Left fielder Moises Alou ran back toward the wall to catch a long drive by pinch-hitter Mike Lowell, and the relay to first caught a stumbling Jeff Conine for an inning-ending double play.
Prior left with two on and no outs in the eighth to a standing ovation, having allowed three runs. Along with shutting down the Marlins, he shook them up by hitting a foul ball that scattered the Florida relievers sitting on a bench down the right-field line.
Baker found a neat way to finish it off, too. He brought in reliever Mark Guthrie, who served up Lowell’s game-winning, pinch-hit homer in the opener, for the last two outs.
While Prior was in control, Marlins starter Brad Penny was hit hard. He gave up seven runs in two-plus innings and was hooted off the mound.
“He just didn’t have good location,” McKeon said.
Marlins reliever Michael Tejera threw the most memorable pitch, however. His mechanics got messed up in the eighth and somehow he threw the ball over Florida’s first-base dugout.
The unseasonably warm weather in Chicago brought out a swarm of ladybugs all around town this week, and they supposedly bring good luck. Whatever, the fates swung in the Cubs’ favor.
Marlins shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who made two sensational plays in the late innings to keep Game 1 tied, had two balls tick off his glove for early singles. Both runners wound up scoring.
Lofton bounced an RBI single off Gonzalez’s glove in the second and stole second. He didn’t have to run nearly as hard when Sosa connected with two outs.
Prior and Penny came out zinging and even with Wrigley buzzing, the sound of fastballs popping into catcher’s mitts echoed throughout the ballpark.
How hard were they throwing? Pierre tried to bunt the first pitch of the game and the ball flew off his bat and landed in foul territory—beyond third base.
The radar gun clocked Prior at 94 mph and showed Penny slightly faster. Not that it was a good thing for Penny—as the story goes, this season McKeon had the radar readings shut off at Pro Player when Penny pitched so he wouldn’tbecome fixated and overthrow.
The Cubs’ Gonzalez has homered in three straight playoff games. He connected in the decisive Game 5 of the division series and also homered Tuesday night. … Andy Pafko threw out the first ball. The former outfielder was part of the Cubs’ last World Series team in 1945. … Cabrera made his major league debut at shortstop. He moved over from third base when Lowell stayed in the game. … Umpire crew chief Jerry Crawford, who felt ill and leftthe opener, has pneumonia. He was replaced by Larry Vanover for Game 2.