CHICAGO -- Kerry Wood trudged off the mound with his head down, flipping his glove into the stands as he hit the dugout steps.
In the biggest start of his life Wednesday night, the Chicago Cubs' ace couldn't pitch his team into the World Series.
The Florida Marlins got seven hits and seven runs off Wood in 5 2/3 innings, and they went on to a 9-6 victory to win the NL championship series after trailing three games to one.
"I felt I let the team down, the organization down and the city of Chicago down," Wood said. "I choked."
Where did it go wrong for the Cubs? First, Florida's Josh Beckett shut them out in Game 5.
No sweat, the Cubs figured, not with aces Mark Prior and Wood available for Games 6 and 7. The Cubs' 20-something duo hadn't lost on back-to-back days all season.
"I said coming home here if they beat my two best, Wood and Prior, then they deserve to go," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.
"And that's what they did. They beat two of the best in the business."
The Cubs were just five outs away from the World Series with Prior pitching Tuesday night when they let a 3-0 lead slip away in Game 6.
The Marlins -- with the aid of a souvenir-seeking fan who got in Moises Alou's way as he went after a foul fly -- rallied for eight runs, delivering a crushing defeat.
OK, but now the Marlins would have to deal with major league strikeout leader Wood, who became famous in his fifth major league start in 1998 when he struck out 20 Houston Astros.
The Cubs have counted on Wood for big games all season. He kept Roger Clemens stuck on career victory No. 299 when the New York Yankees visited Wrigley in June. And in Game 5 of the division series against Atlanta, Wood held the NL's top-hitting team to one run as the Cubs won their first postseason series since the 1908 World Series.
But on this night he didn't have his best stuff and his outing was his shortest since Aug. 21.
After he'd given up a three-run homer to Miguel Cabrera in the first, Wood used his bat to get the Cubs back in the game.
His two-run homer had Wrigley Field shaking with excitement. He was the first NLCS pitcher to homer since Chicago's Rick Sutcliffe in 1984 against the Padres.
But after Alou put the Cubs ahead 5-3 with a two-run homer, Wood couldn't hold off the pesky Marlins. Two walks in the fifth started Florida's three-run rally and put the Marlins ahead to stay.
"He was still throwing the ball well. I mean it hurt, the two walks that started that inning," Baker said.
It marked just the second Game 7 appearance ever for the Cubs, and this one ended like the other. In 1945, in their last World Series appearance, the Cubs lost the final game to the Detroit Tigers.
"Was it disappointing? Yes, it's disappointing because we wanted to go to the World Series," Baker said.
"Any lead wasn't a safe lead. They played better than us," said Alou, who starred on Florida's 1997 World Series winner.
Wood bounced several pitches in the dirt in the opening inning, with catcher Damian Miller making two nice stops to keep Pierre at third.
But after Ivan Rodriguez worked a walk in a nine-pitch at-bat, Cabrera drove a three-run homer to left-center and the crowd was silenced.
"They hit the ball. They put the ball in play and made something happen," Wood said.
"We were down 3-0 and came back from that and then gave it up late. They didn't give up when they got down by two runs."
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
MORE MLB HEADLINES
- Royals' Hochevar needs Tommy John surgery
- Report: D-backs, Perez agree to $4.25M deal
- Nats' Fister held out with elbow inflammation
- Padres' Maybin to avoid surgery on biceps
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
- FANMATS Chicago Cubs Large Mirror Covers
- MLB Home
- AL East
- Baltimore Orioles
- Boston Red Sox
- New York Yankees
- Tampa Bay Rays
- Toronto Blue Jays
- AL Central
- Chicago White Sox
- Cleveland Indians
- Detroit Tigers
- Kansas City Royals
- Minnesota Twins
- AL West
- Houston Astros
- Los Angeles Angels
- Oakland Athletics
- Seattle Mariners
- Texas Rangers
- Fantasy: Sign up!
- Spring blog