Fri, Oct 17, 2003 - Page 24 News List

Marlins make it to the Series

NL CHAMPIONSHIP Chicago's Kerry Wood failed to hold an early lead as Florida won Game 7. The Marlins will now face the Red Sox or the NY Yankees in the World Series

AP , CHICAGO

The Marlins celebrate their 9-6 win over the Cubs in Game 7 of their NL Championship series at Wrigley Field, Wednesday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

National LeaugeWaiting 'til next year will never, ever be so painful for the Chicago Cubs.

Given one final chance to beat the demons of their past and the Marlins, the Cubs couldn't get it done. Kerry Wood failed to hold an early lead and Wrigley Field fell silent as Florida capped its stunning National League Championship series comeback with a 9-6 win in Game 7 Wednesday night.

Destiny? Fate? The fan in Game 6? Whatever. The Cubs were unable to end their long, strange drought because MVP Ivan Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera and these remarkably resilient Marlins won their third straight game to clinch the National League pennant.

"Nobody expected us to be in the World Series," Rodriguez said.

The Marlins will head off to face Boston or the New York Yankees in the World Series starting Saturday night.

In a cruel twist to the Cubs' faithful, Florida will make its second Series trip in only 11 years of existence -- Chicago has been absent since 1945, prompting the team's sad little motto of "Wait 'Til Next Year.'"

"We didn't lose the pennant, the Marlins won it," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "We were close and the Marlins took it from us, it's as simple as that."

Fittingly, Baker's 4-year-old son Darren added a final word when his dad was done talking.

"The Cubs will win next year," the little boy said.

Alex Gonzalez provided insurance with a two-run double to left-center field in the seventh inning for a 9-5 lead. The ball hopped up against the brick wall, covered with ivy that has changed colors to orange and red.

That poison ivy will certainly be tinged with tears, too.

Even after being shut out in Game 5 by Josh Beckett, Sammy Sosa and the Cubs were in excellent position as they returned home. But aces Mark Prior and Wood lost on back-to-back days for the first time this season and suddenly a sure thing had turned sour.

"Those are two tough guys to beat, I'll tell you what," Beckett said. "We got a break. Things work out for a reason, I guess."

A sellout crowd of 39,574 minus the infamous Steve Bartman -- the fan who deflected a foul ball during the Marlins' eighth-inning rally in Game 6, he was at home with a police guard -- had the old ballpark shaking as Wood and Moises Alou homered for a 5-3 lead.

But Wood could only flip his glove into the stands when the wild-card Marlins rallied. They scored three runs in the fifth, Luis Castillo added an RBI single in the sixth and then Gonzalez doubled.

Brad Penny won with an inning of scoreless relief for Mark Redman.

Beckett came out of the bullpen and pitched four innings of one-hit ball on two days' rest, allowing only a homer by pinch-hitter Troy O'Leary. Ugueth Urbina worked the ninth for a save.

Home teams had won 12 of the last 13 times a postseason series went to Game 7. But the Marlins became just the sixth team to ever overcome a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series.

Florida has never lost a postseason series in its young history, going 5-0. That includes a thrilling Game 7 victory in 11 innings over Cleveland for the 1997 title.

At 72, Jack McKeon is the oldest manager to reach the World Series. That seemed farfetched when the Marlins were 19-29 back in late May, but McKeon, who had replaced the fired Jeff Torborg earlier in the month, somehow steered them this far.

"I told them the first meeting that if they worked hard, they'd be playing in October," he said.

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