10/11/2003 10:45 PM ET
Cubs a win away from World Series
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
Game 4 wrapup: Cubs 8, Marlins 3
MIAMI -- Imagine the Chicago Cubs coming home from a weekend in Miami with a few seashells from the beach, a little sunburn and a National League pennant. It could happen.
Aramis Ramirez collected six RBIs to power the Cubs to an 8-3 victory Saturday over the Florida Marlins in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series and move one win away from their first trip to the World Series since 1945. They haven't won it all since 1908.
"You've got to go out there and just win it," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "They're not going to give it to you. They're not going to give up, that's for sure. You can't think about it until it's over, until you cross that finish line. That's our next step -- to cross the finish line."
A win Sunday and the Cubs could advance to face the winner of the heated ALCS between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. The next game at Wrigley Field could be Game 3 of the World Series. That's a lot better than bringing home a souvenir bag of Florida oranges.
"I've driven in six runs before and I've hit two home runs in a game," Ramirez said, "but this is the biggest thing of my life. We want to go to the World Series and hopefully we get it done and hopefully we get it done [Sunday]."
The Cubs lead the best-of-seven series 3-1, and Carlos Zambrano, who started Game 1, will try to clinch it Sunday against Florida's Josh Beckett. Expect to see a lot of Cubs blue among the 65,000-plus at Pro Player Stadium.
Since the best-of-seven format was introduced in 1985, only three teams have overcome a 3-1 deficit to capture the pennant. The lone National League team to do so was the Atlanta Braves in 1996.
Ramirez, one-third of the Cubs' key Pittsburgh connection, drove in six runs with a grand slam in the first, an RBI single in the third and a solo homer in the seventh. He rewrote the team's postseason records in the process.
Ramirez now has the most career postseason RBIs for a Cub with 10 (the old mark was nine, set by Wildfire Schulte in three World Series, 1906, '07 and '10), and the most postseason RBIs in a game, breaking the old mark of four shared by Gary Matthews (1984) and Mark Grace (1989).
Since joining the Cubs, Ramirez's young career has taken a new direction.
"[Coming to Chicago] didn't make me a better player but it made me a little more focused," Ramirez said. "It's fun to be in the postseason. You get excited coming to the ballpark every day. Now I want to do everything I can to help the team win a championship."
"Anybody is going to be energized coming to a playoff contender," said Kenny Lofton, who joined Chicago with Ramirez from the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Ramirez's second homer in the game was the Cubs' 10th in the series, also a team record. Chicago had totaled nine in the 1984 NLCS. And his grand slam was the first ever by a Cub in postseason play.
The "Let's go Cubs" chant from the sellout crowd overpowered the departing Marlins fans in the ninth when Ramirez led off. He struck out and went 3-for-4 in the game.
The subplot Saturday was the link between starters Matt Clement and Dontrelle Willis. The two were part of a six-player deal the last week of Spring Training in March 2002. Willis was one of three minor leaguers the Cubs sent to Florida along with Julian Tavarez for Antonio Alfonseca, who was the headline player in the deal, and Clement.
Willis, a rookie, has some growing up to do. He gave up six runs on three hits over 2 1/3 innings, spoiling the fun for the LCS record crowd of 65,829 who wanted to cheer for the D-Train.
Clement had the luxury of an early lead, which allowed him to take a deep breath and relax. The Marlins collected two runs on five hits over 7 2/3 innings off Clement, who became the first Cubs starter other than Kerry Wood and Mark Prior to win a playoff game.
"His pitch count was low, he was efficient," Cubs catcher Damian Miller said. "He got strike one and he was able to work ahead in the count. There were only a couple times when he missed. I just told him to get back in the strike zone and be aggressive and trust your stuff and he did that tonight."
He may have been aggressive on the mound but he was peaceful in the dugout.
"I just prayed between innings to keep relaxing," Clement said, "and that's the most relaxed I've been for a start in a long time, not just because it's the playoffs but in any start. I just went out and tried to do my job and not get caught up in what was going on."
The game was over shortly after it began. Willis helped the Cubs continue their first-inning scoring trend. The rookie walked the bases loaded with one out in the Cubs first, issuing free passes to Lofton, Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou. Ramirez fell behind 0-2 in the count, then launched a 2-2 pitch from the rookie into the left-field seats for his second postseason home run.
"To put those guys on, base on balls, that's ridiculous," Florida manager Jack McKeon said. "Let them hit the ball. Let them earn it."
Ramirez did. It's the seventh grand slam in LCS history, the most recent coming exactly five years ago on Oct. 11, 1998, when Atlanta's Andres Galarraga connected. Ramirez had hit three grand slams in his young career, and none this year.
"He's a professional hitter, a professional player," Alou said of Ramirez. "He's done awesome since he's been here and since the first couple months of the season. He started real slow and now he's been swinging real well the past four, five months."
Chicago has outscored Florida 11-0 in the first inning in the four games, and Lofton has helped get things started. In nine playoff games this fall, he has scored six first-inning runs.
"It seems like Kenny's on base every start this postseason," Clement said.
"You just have to get on base and whatever happens, happens," Lofton said.
The Cubs weren't finished. Ramirez added an RBI single in the third to open a 5-0 lead. Willis walked Eric Karros to load the bases with one out and then he was finished. Alex Gonzalez greeted Rick Helling with an RBI single to make it 6-0.
"I just told myself it was 0-0. It was a game where you had to keep your focus," Clement said.
Alou hit a two-out RBI single in the Cubs fourth, driving in Lofton. It was Lofton's seventh run scored in the series, tying a team record set by Phil Cavarretta in the 1945 World Series.
This was the first time the Cubs have won three straight postseason games since they swept the Detroit Tigers to win the 1907 World Series. The Cubs also won it all the next year, their last World Series championship.
That could change this year.
"I think they all know what's at stake [Sunday]," Miller said. "They all know what direction we're headed. There's no doubts in our mind we can do this. But the guys in the other dugout, that's a pretty good team. We have to come out and play our game. Hopefully, we can score early like we have been and Carlos can throw strikes and good things will happen."
What about Chicago? Can it handle the Cubs in the World Series?
"We haven't won in 95 years. It's going to be crazy out there," Ramirez said. "They deserve it."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.