10/05/2003 10:16 PM ET
Sixth starts off with controversy
ATLANTA -- What's a playoff game without an 8-4 force play?
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Umm, what's a playoff game with an 8-4 force play?
It's Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Cubs and the Braves, a series that featured just about everything except a controversial umpire's decision.
But by the time the Cubs ended the series with a 5-1 win on Sunday night, that had been scratched off the list as well.
With runners on first and second and no outs in the sixth inning, Gary Sheffield hit a sinking line drive to center field. Kenny Lofton, playing deep, sprinted and made a play on the ball, but it was ruled a trap by left-field umpire Dale Scott. Lofton argued that he had caught the ball cleanly, and television replays appeared to back up his argument.
"I didn't think the ball was caught," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "Afterward, they said it was. I don't know. It was just a confusing play."
To add to the confusion, Lofton fired to second base, thinking he was doubling up Rafael Furcal. The Braves shortstop was running on the play and had rounded third base by the time Mark Grudzielanek tagged second. And if the ball had been ruled a catch, that would have been the exact outcome. Double play, two outs, runner on first, Cubs still leading 4-0. It was not a catch, of course.
So things got even weirder. Marcus Giles had gone back toward first to tag. So even though Furcal scored, Giles was called out at second on a force play. Sheffield took first base and Chicago's lead was cut to 4-1.
"I was looking at both umpires down the lines and they had their hands in their pockets," Giles said. "I was just upset I didn't get a quick call on the play. That left me in no-man's land."
The Cubs did eventually get their double play, it's worth noting. The next batter, Chipper Jones, was unable to take advantage of the extra out. Jones grounded into a conventional 6-4-3 double play, and the inning was over like the Braves.
"That was the most pivotal play of the game there," Sheffield said of Jones' double-play groundout. "We seemed to have some momentum on our side there then."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.