CHICAGO -- Once the ball flew off Sammy Sosa's bat and
soared toward the juniper bushes in dead center field, there was no
telling how far it might go.
And if he keeps hitting like this, there's no telling how far he
might take these Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs put on a startling display of raw power at the plate
and on the mound Wednesday night, and behind Mark Prior overwhelmed
the Florida Marlins 12-3 to even the NL championship series after
"This is the prime time to do it," Cubs manager Dusty Baker
said. "He really hasn't had a hot streak all year. It seems when
he does, he hits a home run every at-bat.
"I'm hoping it's on the way. Boy, it's coming right on time,"
A day after he tied the game with a two-out, two-run shot in the
ninth for his first postseason home run, Sosa hit a two-run drive
in the second inning that went even farther.
By a lot.
Sosa launched a 495-foot shot that cleared the ivy-covered wall,
sailed over the shrubbery that serves as a batter's backdrop and
threatened to fly completely out of the park. Only a television
camera booth kept the ball from becoming a street souvenir.
"He hit that a mile. He can do that every once in a while,"
Coming off his two-hit gem in the opening round against Atlanta,
Prior was good enough. Of course, being handed an 11-0 lead after
five innings helped the 23-year-old keep his composure.
"We fell behind too early. When you're down 8-0 in the third
inning, you're in trouble," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said.
Asked whether he had rethought his strategy about pitching to
Sosa, McKeon bucked up.
"Did he beat us? Enough said," he said.
Now, the best-of-seven series shifts to Pro Player Stadium for
Game 3 Friday night. While the Marlins are one of baseball's best
home teams, the Cubs must like their chances with Kerry Wood
pitching against Mark Redman.
Wood pitched a two-hitter and a three-hitter against the Marlins
this year, striking out a total of 20, and is 4-0 against them
Following the Marlins' 9-8, 11-inning win in the opener when the
teams combined for an NLCS-record 17 extra-base hits, hitters again
wore out the gaps and corners.
This time, the big hits went in Chicago's favor and so did the
little ones. Lofton tied an NLCS mark with four hits, all singles.
Prior cruised until the sixth, when Derrek Lee and rookie Miguel
Cabrera led off with consecutive home runs that made it 11-2.
Despite the big lead, the sellout crowd of 39,562 was well aware
of how resilient the Marlins are. In fact, all four of their wins
in this postseason have been comeback victories.
But before anyone could get too worried, the Cubs put any notion
of a remarkable rally to rest. Left fielder Moises Alou ran back
toward the wall to catch a long drive by pinch-hitter Mike Lowell,
and the relay to first caught a stumbling Jeff Conine for an
inning-ending double play.
Prior left with two on and no outs in the eighth to a standing
ovation, having allowed three runs. Along with shutting down the
Marlins, he shook them up by hitting a foul ball that scattered the
Florida relievers sitting on a bench down the right-field line.
Baker found a neat way to finish it off, too. He brought in
reliever Mark Guthrie, who served up Lowell's game-winning,
pinch-hit homer in the opener, for the last two outs.
While Prior was in control, Marlins starter Brad Penny was hit
hard. He gave up seven runs in two-plus innings and was hooted off
Marlins reliever Michael Tejera threw the most memorable pitch,
however. His mechanics got messed up in the eighth and somehow he
threw the ball over Florida's first-base dugout.
The unseasonably warm weather in Chicago brought out a swarm of
ladybugs all around town this week, and they supposedly bring good
luck. Whatever, the fates swung in the Cubs' favor.
Marlins shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who made two sensational plays
in the late innings to keep Game 1 tied, had two balls tick off his
glove for early singles. Both runners wound up scoring.
Lofton bounced an RBI single off Gonzalez's glove in the second
and stole second. He didn't have to run nearly as hard when Sosa
connected with two outs.
Prior and Penny came out zinging and even with Wrigley buzzing,
the sound of fastballs popping into catcher's mitts echoed
throughout the ballpark.
How hard were they throwing? Pierre tried to bunt the first
pitch of the game and the ball flew off his bat and landed in foul
territory -- beyond third base.
The radar gun clocked Prior at 94 mph and showed Penny slightly
faster. Not that it was a good thing for Penny -- as the story goes,
this season McKeon had the radar readings shut off at Pro Player
when Penny pitched so he wouldn't become fixated and overthrow.
The Cubs' Gonzalez has homered in three straight playoff
games. He connected in the decisive Game 5 of the division series
and also homered Tuesday night. ... Andy Pafko threw out the first
ball. The former outfielder was part of the Cubs' last World Series
team in 1945. ... Cabrera made his major league debut at shortstop.
He moved over from the third base when Lowell stayed in the game.