10/11/2003 10:29 PM ET
Ramirez puts on an offensive show
Hits grand slam and ties NLCS record with six RBIs
MIAMI -- Asketh the Cubs: Who is this "Mike Lowell" you speak of?
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Lowell, to be sure, is a fine, fine ballplayer. He's probably the second-best third baseman in the National League, if not the Majors. All anyone in Cubland could talk about this summer was what it would take to bring him to Wrigley Field. But the Marlins decided not to trade him, and Chicago GM Jim Hendry pursued other options to fill his team's gaping hole at the hot corner.
Hendry wound up with Aramis Ramirez, who is not quite in that Rolen-Lowell-Chavez class, the true elites in the game. He is, however, a major upgrade over the guys who were playing third on the North Side. Now the Cubs stand one game from the World Series, and plenty of credit needs to go to Ramirez.
His two homers and six RBIs in an 8-3 win on Saturday -- including a crushing first-inning grand slam off Dontrelle Willis -- helped put his team thoroughly in the driver's seat in this best-of-seven series. Ramirez joined Will Clark as the only players ever to tally six RBIs in an LCS game, and became the third Cub in history with a two-homer postseason game.
"Ramirez, it was his night tonight," said manager Dusty Baker.
Quietly, Ramirez has put together a potent playoffs. He's 10-for-35 (.286), with eight of those hits going for extra bases. He's slugging .941 in the NLCS. And for a guy who typically views walks about as warmly as he does paper cuts, he's done a nice job of working opposing pitchers for six free passes since the postseason started.
He has done it in the shadow of Moises Alou's barrage of base hits in the Division Series, and Sammy Sosa's prodigious home runs in the NLCS. But he's done it. His outburst over the past two weeks has put him alongside Alou, if not Sosa, as one of the most dangerous threats in the lineup. Back home in the Dominican Republic, the three-headed monster has become known as the "Dominican Power."
And on Saturday night, Ramirez finally took some headlines for himself. His grand slam, after Willis had walked the bases loaded, completely set the tone for what turned out to be a Cubs laugher.
"I was just trying to stay alive," he said modestly. "You don't want to strike out. One out, bases loaded, you want to put the ball in play and at least get one in.
"It was exciting with the kind of pitching we have. Since it was the first inning, I knew it was going to be tough for them to come back."
After dropping Game 3 of the series to Kerry Wood, Florida had a matchup it liked for Game 4. Willis, the man who helped re-engergize the South Florida fan base, took the mound in front of more than 65,000 boisterous fans. Opposing him was Matt Clement, who didn't make it out of the fifth inning in his Division Series start.
Willis, however, was wild. He issued three walks and struck out a batter before anyone hit a ball between the foul lines. Yet when he got ahead of Ramirez 0-2, he had some hope. Then Ramirez fouled off two pitches. He took two balls.
And on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, he turned on a pitch from Willis and planted it in the seats down the left-field line, just barely fair, giving Chicago a quick and daunting 4-0 lead.
Ramirez was at it again two innings later, with an even more impressive at-bat though a less punishing result. After going 2-2 against Willis, he fouled off five straight pitches, took a ball three, fouled off one more and slapped an RBI single to right for the Cubs' fifth run.
He capped his night by throttling a Nate Bump pitch deep into the stands for a solo homer in the seventh, squelching any smidgeon of momentum the Marlins might have picked up with a couple of fifth-inning runs. Ramirez joined Kenny Lofton, Sosa, Alou, Wood and Mark Prior on the growing list of players who have been heroes for the Cubs already in these playoffs.
"He really stepped up again today," Sosa said. "It makes me feel very happy every time I see a different guy step up. That's what championships mean. It's not just about one guy. It's about everybody."
This is Ramirez's first taste of the playoffs after spending the entire rest of his professional career in the Pirates organization. In June, there was no reason at all to think he'd even be playing in the NLCS, never mind starring in it. Yet here he is, part of a Cubs team that has inexplicably turned into an offensive machine.
"Good things happen to good people," said Alou. "He's a good guy, and I guess that was his prize from the Lord -- to go from Pittsburgh to Chicago and to be part of this ride."
What was that other guy's name again?
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.