10/02/2003 12:13 AM ET
Cubs not finishing what they start
Chicago setting up big innings, but coming up empty
ATLANTA -- The Chicago Cubs had their chances Wednesday night, but they could not get the offense clicking at the right time and fell to the Atlanta Braves, 5-3, in Game 2 of the NLDS at Turner Field.
The Cubs loaded the bases for the second consecutive night against a Braves starter and fell short in their effort to plate the runs. This time, it was left-hander Mike Hampton who looked like a sure victim of the Chicago offense in the first inning.
After walking Kenny Lofton and Mark Grudzielanek to start the game, Hampton made a mistake to Sammy Sosa, who connected on it to straight-away center field. But at the 400-foot mark, the ball bounced off the top of the padding and back into the field. It was not a home run, and Sosa, who was motoring to second base, was held to a one-run double.
With the bases full after Moises Alou's run-scoring fielder's choice and Aramis Ramirez's single, Hampton found his groove and struck out the side. He went on to fan the next three as well for six consecutive Ks.
Manager Dusty Baker said he thought Sosa's ball was a home run. After that was ruled out, and with the bases loaded, he thought his team would come up with something against a struggling Hampton.
He was wrong on both counts.
"We've just got to get better with those bases-loaded situations, especially with nobody out," Baker said.
The Cubs stranded 11 runners in Game 1 of the NLDS on Tuesday and eight more during Wednesday's loss. It mirrors their struggles during the regular season, when they left 1,114 on base, an average of 6.8 per game.
The Braves, by comparison, stranded 1,170 for an average of 7.2 this season. The Braves stranded five runners in Tuesday night's 4-2 loss and 10 on Wednesday.
First baseman Eric Karros went 1-for-4 and stranded Sosa and Alou twice in the third and fifth innings.
In the third, Sosa and Alou reached on two straight singles, but could not come home after a strikeout and Karros' double play to end the inning. In the fifth, the pair reached base and again watched as the hitters could not bring them in after a flyout and Karros' ground out.
Karros had no excuse, but said he tipped his hat to Braves pitchers.
"It's a credit to them more than anything," he said. "This is the second night where we had a lot of opportunities. If we keep pounding away, at some point, we'll break through."
The Cubs hit .259 with runners in scoring position this season -- .219 with two outs and .294 with less than two outs with runners on. They drove in 407 of their runs in these situations, but struck out 309 times and grounded into double plays 51 times.
Sosa, who reached base in all four plate appearances Wednesday, said there's more to the story than just failing at the plate.
"Sometimes when you have opportunities like that, the pitcher makes a great pitch and there's nothing you can do about that," Sosa said. "What happened today -- bases loaded in the first inning -- everybody was thinking we could have scored some more runs. But (Hampton) came back and made some great pitches.
"We should have scored probably a few more runs, but we came back. He got out of the jam right there -- you've got to give him credit for that."
Second baseman Mark Grudzielanek (0-for-4) said the Cubs had Hampton's number, but could not finish him off.
"I felt like we had them against the ropes a few times where we could have scored some runs and forced him out of the game," Grudzielanek said. "But he made some pitches when he had to. We had opportunties today. We were in the game the whole time."
Amy Sternig is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.
By Amy Sternig / MLB.com