Win allows Wood to start Game 1

Updated: September 28, 2003, 1:34 PM ET
By Wayne Drehs | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- The game was over, the turnaround complete. Matt Clement ran around the infield, holding his baby son in his arms and celebrating everything he had just accomplished.

He will forever go down in Cubs history as the winning pitcher in the division-clinching game of the 2003 season. But ask Clement what was on his mind all afternoon, whether it was easier or more difficult pitching a potential postseason clincher, and he tells you he really wasn't thinking about it.

Instead, he was thinking about fellow starter Kerry Wood.

"Honestly, my biggest motivation was that I just didn't want Woody to have to pitch tomorrow," Clement said.

After a week in which manager Dusty Baker was criticized for over-managing and under-managing his pitching rotation, things couldn't have worked out any better for his postseason pitching plans.

The Cubs' doubleheader sweep over the Pirates on Saturday, coupled with Milwaukee's victory over Houston, means the Cubs' regular-season finale Sunday is meaningless. And that means Wood isn't needed, which will allow him to rest for a Game 1 showdown with Braves ace Russ Ortiz on Tuesday in Atlanta.

After Wood, the Cubs will likely have Carlos Zambrano on five days' rest for Wednesday's Game 2, Mark Prior on five day's rest for Friday's Game 3 and Clement on six day's rest for Game 4. Wood would then be available to start a potential Game 5.

So what, you say?

If the Cubs had needed Wood on Sunday to clinch, it would have bumped Zambrano and Prior up to four day's rest. And it likely would have meant that the emotionally volatile Zambrano, not Wood, would be in line to start two of the series' five games.

"You want to go into Atlanta strong," Clement said. "You want to throw Woody at them in Game 1 with some extra rest, and I just kept reminding myself of that."

As a result, the Cubs will now throw rookie Sergio Mitre in Sunday's game against the Pirates.

When the week started, Chicago fans lit up the sports talk airwaves, wondering why Baker was pushing Clement in front of Prior in the rotation, meaning Chicago's two aces -- Wood and Prior -- wouldn't start until the third and fourth games of a potential playoff series.

Baker reversed his decision after Shawn Estes beat the Reds on Wednesday. But that became moot when Friday's game was rained out.

Confused? So were Cub fans, who put pen to paper and saw that the postseason rotation didn't look promising even if the Cubs did get there.

Now, it's all moot.

"That's huge -- especially in a short series. It's even more important," said Cubs catcher Damian Miller, who caught the 1-2 punch of Arizona's Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in the 2001 and 2002 playoffs. "Not to mention this means everybody should be able to get an extra day's rest."

Even better is the fact that Baker won't have to decide between the erratic Juan Cruz and Estes for a one-game Monday playoff against Houston's Roy Oswalt. That was a nightmarish scenario for Cubs fans.

Instead, Wood, 14-11 with a 3.20 ERA in 2003, will take the ball in Game 1.

"To be honest, I don't care what game I start," Wood said. "I'm just looking forward to the chance of going out there and making something happen."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.

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