10/07/2003 7:50 PM ET
Cubs call on Prior to even series
Pitcher to face Marlins for first time this year in Game 2
Penny ready for his 'A' stuff
CHICAGO -- Don't tell Mark Prior that the Chicago Cubs are favored in the National League Championship Series.
"I don't know if anybody is a real favorite in this series and that's not taking any confidence away from the way I feel about my teammates," said Prior, who will start Game 2 of the NLCS on Wednesday against the Florida Marlins.
"I think Florida has a great team and I felt that way since we played them back in July," Prior said. "They have a lot of different weapons. But the main thing that they do, they play unbelievable defense."
The Cubs played error-free in the five-game NL Division Series against the Atlanta Braves, so they know the importance of good defense.
"We're going to to have to be at the top of our game and not give them extra outs and execute offensively and do the things we have to do to be successful," Prior said. "They're a great ballclub. I think it's going to be another really close series."
Prior doesn't seem fazed in any way by the postseason. He's pitched in big games before, leading USC to the College World Series and competing internationally. But the 23-year-old showed incredible poise in his first big-league playoff game, throwing a two-hitter against the Braves in Game 3.
"A lot of guys never get to this point until they're in their 30s; some guys never get to this point at all," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said of young Cubs pitchers Prior and Kerry Wood. "Imagine how good they're going to be."
It was the team's first complete game in the postseason since Claude Passeau did so in Game 3 of the 1945 World Series. The two-hitter was the second in Division Series history.
He did throw 130-something pitches, a figure he's reached now in three straight games.
"I feel fine," Prior said. "I feel as good as I did early on in the season. If I was tired, I wouldn't know right now. There's no time to be tired. There's no time to be sore. There's no time to be anything right now.
"This is what you dream about and this is what you play for day in and day out through the course of the year, to be in the situation that we're in right now," he said. "We've got a long way to go if we want to get to that next step."
A three-week stint on the disabled list in July actually seems to have helped Prior. He returned on Aug. 5 and went 10-1 with a 1.52 ERA in the second half, including back-to-back complete-game victories over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But he also got attention for some brash comments and Wood has drawn fire after hitting batters or throwing inside. Is this the Chicago version of the Nasty Boys?
"People have pointed the finger at us as pitchers, saying we're instigators," Prior said. "I don't think we have been, honestly.
"There's been a couple instances and I think they might have got blown out of proportion but we're an aggressive team," he said. "We played aggressive all year, we pitched aggressive all year and it's not because we're trying to be bad guys or try to have this bad-boy image or anything like that. It's just what we've got to do to be successful."
Ask the St. Louis Cardinals and they may say the image is merited.
"Well, like I said, we're aggressive," Prior said. "We play baseball hard. Dusty wants us to play hard. We'll go into second base hard. We'll throw up and in to get guys off the plate. Whether we want to be considered tough guys or not, that's not for us to decide."
Actually, Prior said, away from the field, they're all pretty nice guys.
"You've got to report to the 25 guys in that locker room," he said. "And you want to carry your weight. Like I said, you have to do what makes you successful and gives them a chance to win ballgames."
Prior did not face the Marlins this year, so he will study the tape from Kerry Wood's two starts against them July 9 and July 19. Wood struck out 20 in back-to-back complete games -- they were separated by the All-Star break -- and gave up one run on five hits. Prior also will look at film from the NLDS when San Francisco's Jason Schmidt faced Florida. Schmidt threw a three-hit shutout in Game 1 of that series.
"They're a different ballclub than Atlanta," Prior said of the Marlins, "and in some respects I think they're more dangerous because of the top two guys and they kind of set the table a lot of times for what they're going to do. I'm not going to do anything special, I'm not going to do anything different. Hopefully, we can catch them off guard."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.
By Carrie Muskay / MLB.com