10/15/2003 11:26 PM ET
NL pennant: The one that got away
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
Game 7 wrapup: Marlins 9, Cubs 6
CHICAGO -- From the day he was named the Chicago Cubs manager, Dusty Baker asked, "Why not us?" He dissed the "lovable losers" label, he dismissed the team's history of futility and scoffed at the billy-goat curse, the black cat of '69, and Tuesday's Game 6 fan-and-foul-ball incident.
Generations of Cub fans were giddy with hope. This year was the year. That Ernie Banks rookie card they'd tucked in their wallet and the Kerry Wood jersey they wore every day was good luck after all.
Instead, it's wait until next year -- again.
Rookie Miguel Cabrera drove in four runs, including three on his third homer of the series, to power the Florida Marlins into the World Series with a 9-6 victory Wednesday night over the Cubs in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.
The Cubs had three chances to clinch the NL pennant and didn't. You know about '69 and '84 and '89 and '98. Add 2003 to the long list of frustrating years. Think it was hard to watch? Imagine if you're Banks or Ron Santo or Billy Williams.
This season, the Cubs overcame corked bats, collisions, suspensions and injuries but those pesky Marlins proved to be too much. Weren't they just in the World Series in 1997? The Cubs, who haven't made it to the Fall Classic since 1945, can't seem to chase away the ghosts of failed seasons past.
"[Talk about a curse] is nonsense to us," Cubs catcher Damian Miller said. "The only curse to us was the Florida Marlins."
Baker will have a tough time coming up with a positive spin on this. He was vying to become the first skipper to take two different teams to the finale in consecutive seasons. This had to feel like deja vu all over again. His San Francisco Giants were six outs away from winning the World Series in Game 6, only to lose in seven games to the Anaheim Angels.
"It's always painful to lose, especially at this point," Baker said. "But you've got to also be proud of our guys and the accomplishments and how far we came to get to this point in a short period of time.
"The thing about it is our guys got a taste of what it's like in the postseason," Baker said. "A lot of guys had never been there. We're young. We're going to make some improvements for next year. In my mind, this is just the beginning of good things to come for us for many years."
With nearly 3,000 police officers in and around Wrigley Field, thousands of fans on the streets surrounding the ballpark's bricks and ivy, and millions tuned in across the country, the Cubs came up short.
The Marlins are the fourth team in LCS history to overcome a 3-1 deficit and rally to win the series, and only the second National League team. The Atlanta Braves also did so in 1996 against the St. Louis Cardinals. Next up: the winner of the hard-fought ALCS between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
"I have to give credit to the Marlins. They beat Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. They have to win the World Series," Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa said.
The Cubs had their big-game pitcher on the mound. Wood was the Opening Day starter, he'd beaten Roger Clemens and the Yankees in June, was an All-Star, and had won Games 1 and 5 of the NL Division Series. The Major League strikeout leader, Wood was 4-0 in five career starts against the Marlins.
"If you would've said, 'Hey, would you like to have Kerry Wood on the mound and he's deciding whether or not you go to the World Series, would you take it?' -- sure you'd take it," Cubs first baseman Eric Karros said.
So would the legions of Cubs fans, especially those with the "K" cards and the "We Got Wood" T-shirts. The right-hander hit a two-run homer and took the loss. He struck out six, gave up seven hits and walked four over 5 2/3 innings to take his first loss in the postseason.
Chicago had outscored Florida 12-0 in the first inning in the first six games of the NLCS. On Wednesday, the Marlins struck first and made Wood work in a 33-pitch first. Juan Pierre tripled to lead off and one out later, Ivan Rodriguez walked in a nine-pitch at-bat. Cabrera launched his third home run of the series into the left-field bleachers for a 3-0 lead. The 20-year-old Cabrera is the first rookie to hit three home runs in an LCS.
The Cubs had runners at second and third with one out in the second after Karros singled and Alex Gonzalez doubled. Miller's run-scoring groundout made it 3-1 and Wood jolted the Wrigley Field crowd of 39,574 to life with a two-run homer into the left-field bleachers.
He's the fourth pitcher in NLCS history to homer; the last was Chicago's Rick Sutcliffe, who connected in 1984 in Game 1 against San Diego. Wood came through at the plate in Game 1 of the NLDS as well, hitting a two-run double in a 4-2 win over Atlanta.
The thousands of fans crammed onto Waveland Avenue behind the left-field bleachers rocked Wrigleyville in the third when Moises Alou hit his fifth career postseason home run and second of the NLCS on a 1-0 pitch from Mark Redman, driving in Sosa to go ahead 5-3.
Wood walked two in the fifth and Rodriguez closed the gap to 5-4 with an RBI double. The Marlins tied it on Cabrera's run-scoring groundout and went ahead when Derrek Lee hit an RBI single.
That quieted the crowd. Josh Beckett, who threw a two-hit shutout Sunday in Game 5 to avoid elimination, subdued the Cubs by retiring 12 of 13 batters he faced.
It got even quieter at Wrigley in the Marlins sixth when Jeff Conine scored from third on an infield single by Luis Castillo off Kyle Farnsworth. Florida's Alex Gonzalez nearly silenced them when he smacked a two-run double with two out in the seventh off Dave Veres.
Troy O'Leary added a pinch-hit homer in the Cubs seventh to raise the total runs scored in the series to a record 82. O'Leary's homer was the 13th by the Cubs in the series, and their baker's dozen plus the 10 by Florida set a postseason series record. The Yankees and Seattle Mariners set the previous mark of 22 in the 1995 ALDS.
"Our guys battled and fought and I have nothing bad to say about our guys because we came from a mighty long way to get to this point," Baker said. "Was it disappointing? Yes, it's disappointing because we wanted to to go the World Series. Life is full of disappointments sometimes and you have to build something for the future."
Disappointment? Cubs fans know all about that.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.
"This is just the beginning of good things to come for us for many years."
-- Dusty Baker