Hampton ready to prove in Game 5
CHICAGO -- Now it's up to Kid K.
Kerry Wood will start for the Chicago Cubs on Sunday
night against the Atlanta Braves in the decisive Game 5 of
the best-of-five NL Division Series.
This marks the third time in Cubs history that the
team has played a final and decisive postseason game. The
Cubs played a seven-game World Series in 1945, and
also a five-game NL Championship Series in 1984.
"If you could stay here and take a couple days off it
would've been nice," said Cubs pitcher Matt Clement
who started Saturday and lost, forcing the return trip
to Atlanta. "But the reality is you're in the playoffs
and this kind of travel happens. We have our horse
going (Sunday) and I'll take our chances."
Wood was the winning pitcher in Game 1 of the NLDS,
holding the Braves to two runs on two hits over 7 2/3
"Obviously, I'm ready to pitch (Sunday)," he said
prior to Saturday's game. "I'm ready to go."
1. Strike first. The Cubs are not the best come-from-behind team around and few teams have fared well when trailing against the Atlanta bullpen and closer John Smoltz. An early advantage will keep the crowd noise down and give starter Kerry Wood something to work with.
2. Situational hitting. The Cubs have stranded 33 baserunners so far and hit .167 with runners in scoring position in their two losses compared to .318 in their two victories.
3. Good Wood. Another quality start by Kerry Wood is crucial if the Cubs are going to win the series.
1. Keep the Cubs in the park. The Braves have done an excellent job against Chicago's power hitters, holding the team overall to just two home runs and none by Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou or Aramis Ramirez and forcing them to string together hits to score.
2. Middle of the order. The Cub pitchers had completely held in check Atlanta's No. 3-6 hitters until Saturday when those four spots hit .438 (7-for-16). The Braves must get similar production out of Chipper Jones, Javy Lopez, Andruw Jones and Gary Sheffield or his replacement.
3. Tight defense. In an expected pitchers' duel, defense could be crucial, and the Braves have already had numerous misplays and made five errors, compared to none by the Cubs.
-- Jim Molony
Asked if the Cubs clinched and advanced to the NLCS
against the Florida Marlins whether he'd start Game 1,
Wood deferred comment.
"We haven't gotten that far yet," Wood said. "Best-case scenario, we can talk about that (Sunday)."
Instead, the Major League strikeout leader needs to
come through again. Wood fanned 11 in Game 1 and he is
well aware the Braves, who were the best offensive team
in the National League this season, are capable of
breaking out of their postseason slump. They collected 12
hits on Saturday, including a pair of two-run homers
by Chipper Jones, to win 6-4.
"They know what it takes to get here and you can't
count this team out at all," Wood said.
"Our guys are just pitching, changing speeds and
locations," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said of his starters.
"Hopefully, we can go one more day without waking them
up. It's not that they're asleep. Our guys are doing a
good job against them. We're just hoping to have one
more day of leaving them alone."
In '98, the Cubs won the NL Wild Card and were swept
by the Braves in three games in the NLDS. Wood started
Game 3 that year but was beaten by Greg Maddux. That
was his rookie season. This year, the Cubs won the NL
Central Division. At 26, Wood is older, wiser, and
knows how Cub fans feel.
The Cubs have different expectations this year than
they did in 1998, the last time they were in the
postseason. Wood can tell. He's one of the few players who
was with the Cubs then and now.
"It's different for me from my standpoint because the
team expected to be here this year," the Cubs pitcher
said Saturday. "In 1998, I think we were a little
surprised. I know everybody in the city was surprised to
make the postseason. We were out in three games.
"This year, we expect to win and go further and
hopefully we can take care of business," Wood said.
One reason is because of the Cubs' solid starting
pitchers. They've definitely impressed the Braves.
"This is the best pitching staff I've seen, top to
bottom, to be honest with you," Jones said. "They have
unbelievable sliders. Some of them have splits and
"As a hitter, you can cover two pitches," he said.
"You can cover a fastball and a changeup or a sinker and
a slider but when you've got to expand to the
pitcher's repertoire of four pitches, that makes it very
difficult on a hitter.
"I would say the one team it probably compares to is
one of ours from back in the early to mid '90s when
(Greg) Maddux was in his heyday and (John) Smoltz was
going strong," Jones said.
Wood knows Cub fans will be rooting from afar Sunday
"The fans have been in a playoff-winning drought for
quite a few years," he said. "They're all excited and
we're excited as players. It's fun to walk out of the
stadium and hear thousands of people out there
cheering. I expect it to get even bigger and better."
The sellout crowds Friday and Saturday at Wrigley
Field were buzzing with every pitch.
"You know it's playoff time," he said. "There are no
similarities to a regular season game when you go on
the mound. This is why we play the game. We want to be
in these situations. We know our stage is out there and
we're ready to go."
Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not
subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its