10/12/2003 11:01 PM ET
Tall order: first Prior, then Wood
Still afloat, Fish happy to have chance at Cub aces
MIAMI -- So, thanks to Josh Beckett's brilliance, the Marlins have earned themselves a double-dose of problems.
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
They are taking this National League Championship Series back to Chicago, where all they will have to do is confront Mark Prior and, if they pass that test, Kerry Wood.
And the Marlins are simply ecstatic about this.
Considering the alternative -- not getting to see them -- well, bring 'em on.
"I think we had pretty good games against them," said Jeff Conine. "We didn't score a whole lot of runs, but I think we swung the bats well against those guys."
The Marlins did, indeed, compete against the Cubs' right-handed aces.
In Wednesday's Game 2 in Wrigley Field, they collected eight hits and three runs off Prior -- including back-to-back sixth-inning homers by Derrek Lee and Miguel Cabrera. But the liberties they took were overlooked because Prior had the protection of an 11-0 lead.
Friday here, the Marlins netted seven hits and three runs off Wood in 6 2/3 innings.
Most encouraging, perhaps, is that the two fireballers notched a modest total of 12 strikeouts between them in 13 2/3 innings. So the Marlins were putting the ball in play.
"You have to step up against them, play your best game," Conine said. "Or there's no more season."
Refusing to accept a postseason pink slip from excitable Carlos Zambrano was one thing. Keeping Prior from punching that ticket will be more difficult.
Both right-handers are the same age, 23. However, Prior's mound presence and command are a bit ahead of Zambrano's.
"It hasn't been easy all year," said Juan Pierre, the Florida center fielder. "But we can win with our style. If we hit and pitch like we can, if we do all those things, we have a good shot at winning."
Leadoff man Pierre and the pal batting behind him, Luis Castillo, figure to be critical if Prior and Wood induce tight, low-scoring games. The types in which the Marlins' superior speed can give them an edge.
"We just have to do a better job against Prior on Tuesday," Castillo said, "than the first time we faced him. Juan and me have to do a better job.
"Because if we don't win, there's no more tomorrow. They win, they're the National League champs. We have to fight and keep playing harder."
The Cubs feel their clinching has merely been interrupted, given their natural confidence lining up behind Prior and Wood.
"Yeah, we feel confident with those guys on the mound," their manager, Dusty Baker, said. "Prior has thrown a lot of pitches and a lot of innings this year, but he's performed a lot better on the sixth day. He's probably the guy who benefits the most from an extra day's rest."
Can the Marlins match that confidence level? Pierre thinks they don't have to.
"The pressure is on them. They've got to put us away," Pierre said, then went on, "they're tough, but at least with Prior you know what you're going to get.
"We've seen him before, and it's our job to make the proper adjustments and get to him. I know it won't be easy, and they'll have their own fans behind them. But it's not impossible."
The most-often heard word around Pro Player Stadium last night was "daunting." There might be a South Florida run on Hallmark sympathy cards.
Save the postage, the Marlins suggested.
"We have to bring ourselves back to earth and get ready for Tuesday night," said Ivan Rodriguez, holding onto his game-face. "We've got to go and be aggressive.
"They're great pitchers, but we've got to be ourselves, keep doing what we do best, and not put any extra pressure on ourselves. Just go and play our game."
And if they play their Game 6, maybe they get to play their Game 7.
"We've been making the same statement all year: We're not going to quit," Beckett said. "It's not over. There's still going to be a Game 6 and a Game 7."
Jack McKeon has already made one surprising choice, tabbing Carl Pavano to oppose Prior on Tuesday night.
What surprises might be in store for Wood if there is a Wednesday? We can rule out Beckett, right? He couldn't go on two days' rest, right?
"Yeah, it'd be my [between-starts] throwing day anyway," Beckett said, as lightly as if he'd been asked whether he could pick up an extra loaf of bread at the bakery. "Why not?"
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.