10/04/2003 1:28 AM ET
Maddux 'threw a terrific game'
CHICAGO -- All you need to know about Mark Prior's performance on Friday night is that Greg Maddux flatly stated, "I got outpitched." That is not, however, all you need to know about Maddux's outing.
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Maddux, a certain first-ballot Hall of Famer, overcame sloppy defense, a rough first inning and a sore calf to pitch a fine game and give his team a chance to win. He got as little help from his offense as he did from his defense, though, and the result was a 3-1 Cubs win and a 2-1 Chicago advantage in the best-of-five National League Division Series.
"Going in, you know," he said, "you expect it to be a close game. You don't expect a lot of runs. You don't expect a lot of big innings. They got two early."
In its own way, it was vintage Maddux. In addition to having great pitching intelligence, absurdly good command and underrated stuff, he has always been one of the game's great competitors. When he put away Sammy Sosa on a pair of 85 mph fastballs in the first, it was emblematic of what Maddux is all about.
He went on to yield a two-run single later in the inning, but after that it was lockdown time. Only one Cub got past first base against Maddux after the first inning. This despite a Division Series record-tying four errors by Atlanta.
And that doesn't count the most costly miscue of all, when Robert Fick was unable to make a play on a sacrifice bunt attempt in the first. After Kenny Lofton singled to open the game, Fick attempted to field the bunt but slipped, and both runners were safe. Maddux retired the next two batters for what should have been the second and third outs. Instead, Randall Simon singled in two runs for a lead the Cubs would never relinquish.
"I'm pretty sure he makes the play [if he doesn't slip]," said Maddux. "But it's easier said than done."
Remarkably, none of the errors cost Maddux anything but pitches. A throwing error on a stolen base in the second sent Lofton around to third base, but Mark Grudzielanek flied out to end the inning. Alex Gonzalez reached on a misplay by Vinny Castilla in the fourth, but was caught stealing. A tough error on Rafael Furcal put Sammy Sosa on base in the fifth, and Sosa took an extra base when Andruw Jones misplayed a single. Yet Maddux worked around even that.
"Maddux, I thought, threw a terrific game," said manager Bobby Cox. "He made all the pitches he needed to, and he got beat with all those jam shots. Typical Maddux runs, actually. The balls they hit good, we caught. The balls they didn't, fell in."
Cox said that Maddux was battling a sore calf that began bothering him in the first inning. That played a part in him being lifted from the game after six innings and 90 pitches.
"I thought he did a great job pitching on one leg," Cox said.
As hard as it is to imagine, the game could have been Maddux's last as a Brave. He can be a free agent after the season, and Atlanta is growing ever more cost-conscious. He could be wearing another uniform next season, bringing to an end an amazing run.
He insisted, however, that such considerations were nowhere near his mind on Friday.
"I still feel good about our team," he said. "We've won two in a row lots of times. There's a reason we won the most games in the league this year, and I think we've got a lot to look forward to the next two weeks."
If the Braves are able to send their bulldog out to the mound again, it will be a good sign for one simple reason: it will mean they have advanced to the NL Championship Series. But if he pitches like he did on Saturday, they'll have a chance to go even further than that.
"We battled," said Andruw Jones. "Maddux battled. Maddux went out there and shut them out. We never scored some runs for him and that was the game."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.