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Cubs striking early, often in NLCS
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10/11/2003  8:57 PM ET 
Cubs striking early, often in NLCS
Ramirez hits a grand slam to give Cubs a 4-0 lead
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Aramis Ramirez gave the Cubs a 4-0 lead in the first inning with a grand slam. (J. Pat Carter/AP)
MIAMI -- The Chicago Cubs have found their offense in this NLCS, and they hope to ride it to the promised land of the World Series after another big night at the plate.

Saturday, the Cubs touched Florida Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis for four runs in the first inning on an Aramis Ramirez grand slam, one of his two homers on the night, and scored four more in the contest for a 8-3 victory in Game 4 of the NLCS at Pro Player Stadium.

If it wasn't for that first inning, the Marlins might not be in such a dire situation heading into Sunday's Game 5.

It was Ramirez's fourth career grand slam, the previous three all coming during the regular season, and his eighth career two-homer game. It was the seventh grand slam in NLCS history, and the first by the Cubs in any playoff series.

Ramirez's plate was set when Kenny Lofton, Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou walked to load the bases. His big night continued in the third when he singled in Sosa. Alex Gonzalez connected on an RBI-single to bring in Alou in the same inning and Alou rounded out the Cubs' scoring with an RBI-single in the fourth.

With their eight runs Saturday, the Cubs have outscored the Marlins, 33-19, in the series, including 11-0 in the first inning. The Cubs have a 3-1 series lead, and the two teams face off in a do-or-die Game 5 for the Marlins on Sunday.

Cubs manager Dusty Baker said he's not ready to say the series as over by any means, despite his club's hot streak. The Cubs are hitting .299 over the four-game series, with 47 hits and 33 RBIs.

Lofton, who is hitting .500 and has reached base 12 times in four games, said he can't put his finger on the reason the Cubs have come alive at the plate. He doesn't put much credence in the theory the team is peaking at the right time.

    Kenny Lofton   /   CF
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 190
Bats/Throws: L/L

More info:
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"I'm just looking at winning ballgames no matter what kind of streak we are on," Lofton said. "You can not hit the ball well, but still win ballgames or you can't pitch well and still win ballgames. You can't say that it's certain things or hot streaks or whatever. You're trying to win games, that's the bottom line."

Sosa said he thinks the team is winning ballgames because it is starting to click -- and it couldn't come at a better time.

"Everybody is playing great now," he said. "We know what we have to do. We play always with so much intensity and focus on what we need to do. That's why every time we are up there, we have a chance to do some damage."

The damage has been done early and often this postseason as the Cubs have drawn first blood in seven of their nine playoff games. They have scored in the first inning of all four NLCS games against the Marlins.

"I think 70 percent of the time, the team that scores first is usually the team that wins," Baker said. "It gives your pitcher a little bit of breathing room, where he can relax right away, versus 0-0 in the fifth or sixth inning."

    Sammy Sosa   /   RF
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 225
Bats/Throws: R/R

More info:
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Stats
Splits
Hit chart
Cubs site

In Game 3, they scored first, leading off the opening inning when Sosa drove in Lofton with a single off the wall against Marlins starter Mark Redman.

Game 2 saw them score twice on two singles by Mark Grudzielanek and Randall Simon and two walks by Sosa and Ramirez against starter Brad Penny.

They opened Game 1 by scoring four runs in the first inning on a walk by Lofton, triples by Grudzielanek and Simon and an Alou home run off Marlins starter Josh Beckett.

Only twice in the postseason have the Cubs not scored in the first inning, in Games 1 and 4 of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves.

Sosa credited the entire team with jumping out to early leads and making it easier on the starting pitcher. He said he likes to see different guys pitching in.

"Everybody's been doing just a little bit," Sosa said. "One day it's one guy, another day a different guy. That's why we are here."

The Cubs were 61-29 in the regular season when scoring first and 68-22 when scoring more than four runs. In the postseason, they are 5-3 when scoring before the opposition, 3-1 against the Marlins in the NLCS.

But none of that means anything to Baker going into Game 5. He knows there is still a chance the Marlins could roar back and win three straight. He said he doesn't want to get ahead of himself and brushed off talk of clinching a trip to the World Series with a win Sunday in Miami.

"I'm going to do the same thing I've been doing," he said. "We have a killer instinct every day. You've got to go out there and just win it. They're not going to give it to you. You can't think about (a World Series berth) until it's over, until you cross that finish line."

Amy Sternig is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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