10:00 PM ET, October 4, 2008
Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California
In Chicago, hopes were so high that the Cubs' 100-year championship drought would finally end that the city prepared for raucous celebrations by limiting alcohol sales around Wrigley Field during clinching games.After just two playoff games, it's the Los Angeles Dodgers with a chance to clinch.On the verge of another disappointing October, Chicago will try to avoid a ninth straight postseason loss and a second consecutive division series sweep on Saturday, while Los Angeles looks to secure its first playoff series victory in 20 years in Game 3 at Dodger Stadium.The Cubs had the best record and the most runs in the NL during the regular season, and they went 55-26 on Chicago's North Side, but they struggled at home in almost every facet in the first two games against the Dodgers.After Game 1 starter Ryan Dempster walked seven in a 7-2 loss on Wednesday, each of Chicago's four starting infielders committed an error on Thursday, leading to five unearned runs in a 10-3 defeat in Game 2. The Cubs' vaunted offense, meanwhile, is 4-for-17 (.235) with men in scoring position in the series."It wasn't good baseball. In fact, the last two days, that's probably been the two worst games we've played all year, from a walking and errors standpoint," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "It wasn't fun to watch, I'll tell you that."Since taking a 3-1 lead over Florida in the 2003 NL championship series, the Cubs have lost eight straight games in the postseason.That skid includes the infamous Game 6 loss against Florida, when Chicago allowed eight runs in the eighth inning to blow a 3-0 lead, and last year's three-game sweep in the division series by Arizona. The Cubs have been outscored 54-20 during the slide.Piniella will shake things up a bit in hopes of turning the Cubs' fortunes. One guaranteed change will be benching Kosuke Fukudome, batting .173 since Aug. 2, after the rookie went 0-for-8 with four strikeouts in the first two games."From now on, I don't want to hear about Fukudome anymore as far as whether he's going to play or not," Piniella said. "I'm going to play (Mike) Fontenot or Reed Johnson or somebody else and that's the end of that story. The kid is struggling and there's no sense sending him out there anymore."It would take a historic comeback for Chicago to avoid another playoff exit. Since division series play began in 1995, no NL team has come back from a 2-0 hole to win the series, and only current Dodgers manager Joe Torre's 2001 New York Yankees have advanced after dropping the first two games at home, doing it against Oakland.Former Athletics starter Rich Harden (5-1, 1.77 ERA) will try to help the Cubs begin such a run. Chicago acquired the right-hander from Oakland in July, and while Harden has delivered, allowing just 39 hits in 71 innings while striking out 89, there are concerns about wildness after he walked 11 in 11 innings in his last two starts.Harden has made one previous postseason start, allowing three runs and walking five in 5 2-3 innings of a 3-0 loss to Detroit in the 2006 AL championship series.The hard-throwing Canadian has never faced Los Angeles, but he has plenty of experience with Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez. The former Red Sox outfielder is 3-for-11 in his career against Harden, but all three hits were home runs.Ramirez has homered in each of the first two games of the series, continuing his torrid run with his new team. He hit .396 with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs in 53 regular-season games after Boston traded him to Los Angeles on July 31, including .413 with nine home runs and 33 RBIs in 25 games at Dodger Stadium.He's 4-for-8 with four runs scored and three RBIs in the series, helping bring Los Angeles to the brink of the NL championship series and the team's first playoff series victory since the 1988 World Series."We're going to L.A., we need one more win. We're not there yet," said Ramirez, the all-time leader in postseason home runs with 26. "They're the best team in the National League and anything could happen."Still, everything seems to have fallen into place for Torre's team at the right time. Leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal, who returned from a four-month absence after back surgery late last month, has a .455 on-base percentage and three runs scored, sparking an offense that was 13th in the NL in runs during the regular season.James Loney had the big hit in Game 1, ripping a grand slam to center field off Dempster, while catcher Russell Martin's three-run double broke open Game 2 for the Dodgers.The NL West champs also have received solid starting pitching from Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley in the series, and that's exactly what Game 3 starter Hiroki Kuroda (9-10, 3.73) gave them against the Cubs this year.The 33-year-old rookie went 1-1 against Chicago, but allowed one earned run in 15 1-3 innings and pitched a four-hitter with 11 strikeouts against the Cubs at Dodger Stadium in a 3-0 victory on June 6."We're up two games to nothing, so there shouldn't be that much pressure," Martin told the Dodgers' official Web site. "He should just go out there and throw strikes, make them earn their way. That's what he's been doing for the most part of the season. When he's on, he's on. He can be one of the best pitchers in the game."
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