Fri, Oct 10, 2003 - Page 24 News List

Baseball fans get back into the game as intensity grows

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , CHICAGO

So Lynn Dickson was home in Wonder Lake, Illinois, some 60km north of Chicago, when she began screaming and hollering.

"We had the windows open, and I think the neighbors thought my husband, John, and I were fighting," she said, "or maybe something even worse was happening. But we were watching the Marlins-Giants on television.

"It was unbelievably exciting."

Dickson attended Wednesday night's second game of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins in a Cubs cap and Cubs jersey. It may not come as a surprise to some that she's a Cubs fan, but she says she's a baseball fan first, and she, like so much of the rest of the country, has become riveted by the postseason games. And for good reason. They've provided more drama than The Phantom of the Opera, more thrills than a car chase, and they have often been as spectacular and as wondrously welcome as Manhattan when the lights came on after the blackout.

"You can develop an ulcer from watching these games," said another fan, who happens to have been involved in some of those games, one Josh Beckett, the Marlins' ace right-hander.

"Everyone," said Errol Halperin, a lawyer in Chicago, "is talking about it. I've been staying up late to watch the games. I go to work bleary-eyed, but it's been worth it. The games are so well played, and there's so much at stake."

Wednesday night, the Cubs cruised past the Marlins, 12-3, to even the best-of-seven-game series at 1-1. Mark Prior pitched adequately but not sensationally, allowing eight hits and three runs, two earned, in seven innings. The Cubs' offense, led by Sammy Sosa's monstrous 495-foot home run and two homers by Alex Gonzalez, was a feat, but a decidedly soporific one. The Cubs had an 11-0 lead by the fifth inning.

But Tuesday night's Game 1 was more emblematic. The lead changed hands from inning to inning, then the game went into extra innings. It was 4-0 Cubs in the first. Florida comes back and leads, 5-4. Then it's 6-6, then 8-6, Florida, then Sammy Sosa ties the score in the bottom of the ninth with a home run with one on and two outs to make the score 8-8. Then Florida wins it in the 11th.

There was the Cubs-Braves division series in which Sosa came up in a similar situation in Game 4, but he flied out deep to center to end the game.

The Giants, with the nonpareil Barry Bonds, were expected to knock off Florida in their division series, but the Marlins kept coming back. And then there was the play at the plate with two outs and the Giants having a chance to tie Game 4 and Ivan Rodriguez blocks the plate and holds on to the perfect throw from Jeff Conine in left to tag out J.T. Snow and send the Marlins into the NLCS against the Cubs.

The thing about sports, and baseball in particular, is that in so many cases you'll see something you've never seen before. And in the above-cited instance, never in the 100-plus years of postseason play in the major leagues has a game ended with a defensive play of that nature.

A strong element in the delight of the unexpected is the appearance of the Cubs and the Red Sox in the postseason, both of them notorious for legendary failures, the Red Sox not having won a World Series in 85 years, the Cubs in 95. Their presence has undoubtedly helped boost baseball's television ratings in the last week.

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