10/04/2003 1:08 AM ET
Ex-Bucs help Cubs seek treasure
Former Pirates big part of Chicago's Game 3 victory
CHICAGO -- It used to be fans talked about the ex-Cubs factor. This season, it's the ex-Pirates factor that is winning ballgames time after time for the Chicago Cubs.
By Amy Sternig / MLB.com
Friday's 3-1 win over the Atlanta Braves gave the Cubs a 2-1 advantage over the Braves and puts the Cubs in position to clinch the NL Division Series with a win on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
Three former Pittsburgh players -- Kenny Lofton, Aramis Ramirez and Randall Simon -- contributed to the win, with Lofton playing the role of ignitor.
Lofton, the Cubs' leadoff hitter, singled his way on off Braves starter Greg Maddux (0-1) to get things started in the first inning and advanced to second on Mark Grudzielanek's bunt single to the first-base side.
After Sammy Sosa struck out and Moises Alou flew out to left, Lofton swiped third and Grudzielanek took second when catcher Javy Lopez couldn't keep a low pitch in front of him. Simon belted a single, scoring Lofton and Grudzielanek for a 2-0 lead.
Ramirez then doubled in Alou for the third run of the night in the eighth inning, finishing 2-for-4.
It was a trifecta for the three men who now wear blue and call Wrigley Field home. Not bad for a trio of players who would have been watching these games from the comfort of their homes if it were not for the mid-season trades that brought them here.
Lofton and Ramirez came over on July 22 when general manager Jim Hendry pulled the trigger on a trade that sent infielder Jose Hernandez, minor league pitcher Matt Bruback and a player to be named later (infielder Bobby Hill) to the Pirates.
Simon joined the ranks on Aug. 16 in exchange for outfielder Ray Sadler.
"It was a special meaning for me when I first came over here," said Lofton, who hails from the Chicago area. "I'm over it now and I feel like a Cub now. Once I got over that feeling, I have been more comfortable and I'm trying to help the Cubs get where we're trying to go and hopefully it will work out."
There was a sign in the stadium Friday night thanking Pittsburgh for sending the three players over in the deal. Lofton said it's nice to be appreciated, but he knows he has to produce, or people may see the trade as a bad move.
"If we don't go out there and do our job, it's a catch-22 situation," he said. "I think it's an opportunity where myself, Randall and Ramirez had to get the job done first of all."
And what a job they have done. In total, the three men have hit .357 this postseason with four RBIs and scored three runs.
Lofton also contributed with three stolen bases, two coming Friday night. The last time a Cubs player stole two bases in a postseason game was the 1932 World Series when Billy Jurges did it in Game 3.
During his career, Lofton has stolen 538 bases and has
stolen multiple bases 96 times, twice with the Cubs in
August. That's second only to Rickey Henderson among players on the active list.
Manager Dusty Baker said in addition to winning pitcher Mark Prior, the three former Pirates were responsible for Friday's win and mean a lot to the success of the club.
"Lofton's been great, getting on base," Baker said. "Simon drove in the first two runs and we saw what he was like against his old club (he came up with the Braves). Ramirez got that big hit in the eighth."
Simon said he considers it a blessing that he is with the Cubs now.
"At our position, there could be a lot of other third
basemen or center fielders or first basemen," Simon said. "They chose us and that right there makes us so strong and we want to help our team win."
Lofton, the wily centerfielder, is looking less like a
36-year-old veteran and more like a player in the prime of his career. He is 4-for-12 in the three games of the series and batted .296 over 140 games in the 2003 regular season. With the Cubs, he hit .327 in 56 games, turning it up over the final 31 games, when he went 41-for-112 for a .366 average.
He also stole 12 bases for the Cubs, scored 39 times and drove in 20 runs in the regular season.
Lofton will likely not return to the Cubs next season
because he was acquired to fill the spot left by Corey
Patterson, who tore his ACL and is penciled in to return to action next spring. Bur Lofton is making an impact with his play and his leadership.
Lofton tried to loosen the team up after his two successful at-bats against Maddux. He said he tried to convey some words of advice to his team.
"It kind of put guys in a mindset that all we have to do is stay focused and put the ball in play," he said. "If you swing for the fences, it's not going to work. That's all I was trying to do."
Sternig is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This
story was not subject to approval by Major League
Baseball or its clubs.