10/08/2003 9:24 PM ET
Just a 'bad night' for Penny
Righty matches NLCS record, chased after two innings
CHICAGO -- The Marlins may be happy to return home with a split in the first two games of the National League Championship Series, but they also have to be concerned about one trend that has emerged. Josh Beckett and Brad Penny have combined to allow the Cubs 13 runs in 8 1/3 innings of the first two starts, with outings that can be best described as going from bad to worse.
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
In Game 1, the Marlins were able to overcome Beckett's troubles. He spotted the Cubs four runs in the first inning, and left with six runs allowed in 6 1/3 innings of a no-decision.
Penny spotted the Cubs two runs in the first inning of Game 2 on Wednesday night on Randall Simon's double. He lasted only two-plus innings in his worst start of 2003, matching the shortest outing in NLCS history and shortest postseason outing in franchise history.
In their last five games, the Marlins starters are 0-1 with a 9.13 ERA. They obviously have been able to compensate until Wednesday, winning four of those games. Those were consecutively, including the last three against the Giants and then Game 1 of this series. But when Mark Redman takes the mound for Game 3 back home in Florida, the Marlins must hope to end what is fast becoming a dangerous trend.
"It was just a bad night," said Penny, who was a force in that incredible September Wild Card race, but not the same pitcher so far in this postseason. "I just fell behind. I couldn't throw a breaking ball for a strike. I threw the ball over the middle of the plate to Sammy (Sosa). Second inning, I got a bad hop (the one that went over Alex Gonzalez at short). I got some bad breaks. Nothing was going my way. I wasn't making pitches. It wasn't a good combination. I was 2-1, 3-1 on everyone."
Asked about his breaking ball, Penny said: "I just couldn't throw it for a strike. I was bouncing it, hanging it. I wasn't in there long. The first couple of innings."
Penny was in there just long enough to be part of what will become Wrigley Field legend for years to come. Sosa hit a 1-1 pitch off him in the second inning, 495 feet to center, landing on top of the TV camera shed. "I just threw a fastball down the middle, and he hit it out of the park," Penny said. Nearly out of Wrigleyville.
The last time Penny faced the Cubs was July 19 in Florida, and that was a much different Brad Penny. He did not give up an earned run over eight innings that time, but took a heartbreaking 1-0 loss at home because Kerry Wood -- the Cubs' Game 3 starter -- pitched even better. Wednesday's game marked the first time Penny has pitched at Wrigley, and his troubles started right away.
After retiring leadoff man Kenny Lofton on a hot comebacker in the first inning, Penny allowed a single up the middle by Mark Grudzielanek. Sosa walked, and Moises Alou's deep fly to right put men at the corners. Aramis Ramirez walked to load the bases, and Randall Simon -- devastating in his career with the bases full, slapped a two-run single to left.
The third run was a hard-luck one for Penny; Lofton got a lucky high bounce on a grounder toward Gonzalez at short, scoring Paul Bako. Then came the opposite of luck: Sosa's two-run blast, making it 5-0. Throw in a leadoff homer by Ramirez to start the third and then a follow-up single by Simon, and Penny was done. Right-hander Nate Bump was summoned to replace him for the night.
"He was throwing the ball too hard," Marlins catcher Ivan Rodriguez said of Penny. "He tried to throw 97-98 (mph), and left a lot of balls in the middle. When you do that, you're going to get yourself in trouble. Penny just had a bad night -- probably too anxious."
Marlins manager Jack McKeon was quick to defend Penny after a reporter asked him whether he will rethink his decision to start the right-hander in Game 6.
"I don't think because a guy had a bad game, you cross him off the board. When you look at the 14 wins he put up during the regular season, I think that's got to count for something. I mean, we're talking about the matchup on Friday, and we got a pitcher that's 14-9, and the guy is going 14-11, it sounds like we don't even have a chance. But the guy won 14 games, I don't think you can push him out the door because he had a bad couple of innings.
"No, nothing is etched in stone, but right now we haven't -- if there's a problem or he doesn't have a good workweek, we'll re-evaluate that, but to say he won't pitch in Game 6 at this time would be a non-issue."
Penny was credited with seven runs allowed (all earned), with seven hits, four walks and no strikeouts. He threw 54 pitches, 33 for strikes, and surrendered two homers.
The last pitcher to not to get past two innings of an NLCS game was just a year ago: Matt Morris of the Cardinals against the Giants. The last Marlins starter to go only that far in a postseason game was Tony Saunders against Cleveland during the 1997 World Series. But Penny was looking for a silver lining before jumping on the flight back to Florida.
"We got the split," he said. "We're going to go back. We've got a good chance to beat them if we can beat Kerry Wood. We play real well at home."
Mark Newman is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.