Maddux familiar with Wrigley Field
ATLANTA -- It'll be young vs. old, up-and-coming vs.
established pitcher. It could be a classic.
Mark Prior will start Game 3 of the NL Division Series on Friday at Wrigley Field against Atlanta ace Greg Maddux. The best-of-five series is locked at one win apiece, but forget the postseason implications for a second. Think of the storyline.
"It's the new lion on our side and you have the veteran of many wars lion on the other side," Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "You have power vs. finesse. You have baseball intellect in Maddux and you have power and rising baseball intellect in Mark Prior."
"It's better than being just old, I guess," Maddux said.
This is prime time baseball, and perfect for Prior, who went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA his sophomore big league season.
"I wouldn't want it any other way," Prior said about facing Maddux. "Everybody wants to go up against the best and beat the best. This is my opportunity and hopefully it goes in our favor."
|One for the ages|
|Sophomore sensation Mark Prior and four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux square off Friday night. Here's a tale of the tape:|
|2||Years of experience||18|
Maddux won his first Cy Young with the Cubs way back in 1992.
"In '92, I was 12," Prior said. "I don't remember that."
The young Cub has plenty of respect for Maddux.
"He knows every hitter, he knows every ballpark, he knows every umpire," Prior said. "He knows what he can do in given situations and what he can get away with and that's the fun part to watch him.
"I grew up watching (Roger) Clemens and (Randy) Johnson and (Curt) Schilling and a lot of power pitchers," he said. "But watching (Maddux) work is pretty awesome. He doesn't have an overpowering fastball. He knows how to change speeds, he knows how to make guys expand their zone and do things he wants them to do. If wants a ground ball to second to turn two, he'll throw a pitch to get that result. To be able to do that in this game is pretty unbelievable."
And Maddux has respect for Prior as well.
"He's easily one of the best pitchers in the game," Maddux said. "He's one of the few who has great stuff but also pitches."
The Atlanta Braves may have actually contributed to Prior's second-half success.
There were two outs in the Cubs second inning July 11 and Prior was at first after drawing a walk. Mark Grudzielanek hit a grounder toward Atlanta second baseman Marcus Giles, and Prior crashed into Giles in the basepath as he was trying to advance. Imagine an NFL linebacker tackling a Pee-Wee football player. Giles had no chance.
The Braves infielder took the brunt of the impact. Prior is 6-foot-5, 230 pounds; Giles is 5-foot-8, 180.
"I don't think Marcus is in Prior's weight class," Atlanta pitcher Mike Hampton said.
Prior stayed in the game and retired the side in order in the Braves third, striking out two, including pinch-hitter Mark De Rosa who was batting for Giles. Prior's leg started to bother him and he exited after 4 2/3 innings, his shortest outing of the year.
Prior and Giles were headed to the All-Star Game to be played four days later, but the collision sidelined both. The closest Prior came to a game ball was when Atlanta shortstop Rafael Furcal's errant throw sailed into the dugout and came close to clipping the Cubs pitcher. Prior joked that the Braves put a bounty on his head.
A bruised right shoulder kept Prior sidelined until Aug. 5. That time off may be part of the reason the right-hander is rolling into the postseason fairly fresh.
"I think it did help me from the standpoint that it gave me three weeks off to get away," Prior said Thursday. "The season can get stressful and having three weeks off and knowing I'm not allowed to pitch and not able to pitch, it's a chance to regenerate and get your mind cleared and refocus on what you want to do.
"Those three weeks were three long weeks, and I obviously don't want to sit out," he said. "What made it easier was that the team was winning. When I came back in, I was just hoping I could keep up with everybody. They were pitching well."
Prior not only kept up, he lapped his teammates. The
right-hander went 5-0 in August, giving up three earned runs over 39 innings for a 0.69 ERA, and won NL Pitcher of the Month honors. Included in that stretch were back-to-back complete game wins over Los Angeles.
On Aug. 10, Prior's second start back, he had given up four hits over eight innings when Shawn Green singled with two out in the ninth. Baker went to the mound to check on his pitcher. Somehow, Prior talked his way into staying and he fanned Jeromy Burnitz to end the game.
Showing far more maturity than most 23-year-olds, he followed his dazzling August with a 5-1 September and again won NL Pitcher of the Month. Since coming back from the DL, Prior is 10-1 with a 1.52 ERA. He totaled eight double-digit strikeout games this season, including his last three starts.
This kid is good.
"He's a Cy Young waiting to happen," Miller said.
He'll be in the spotlight Friday.
"It's the playoffs and things are magnified, but it'll be the same," Prior said. "The last month almost every game has been a playoff type atmosphere and every game has been crucial for us. We've been fortunate to pitch under these conditions."
Prior has been able to handle the pressure as well as the sudden fame he's achieved. Yet he isn't the type to believe all the hype.
"It's different here in Chicago than in southern California," said the So-Cal guy. "In southern California,
you're in one day and out the next. This game is a very humbling game. It's a very negative game, very negative statistics. If you start worrying about how well you're doing and concentrate on those things, it'll bite you in the butt. I have to take it day by day and do things that will make me successful."
He's not worried about being a media darling.
"The only people I worry about are the 25 guys in that locker room," Prior said. "As long as I'm respected by them, that's the only thing I worry about."
Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not
subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its