10/15/2003 2:11 AM ET
Wood, Redman set for Game 7
CHICAGO -- These are the things that you wonder about with the Chicago Cubs going into Game 7 of the NL Championship Series:
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
Is the weight of history bearing down upon them? Is the rampant fatalism taking hold? Are they thinking to themselves: "We're the Cubs. Everybody told us all year that we weren't supposed to win. Maybe, with everything that's happened, we really aren't supposed to win."
From what you know about the Cubs' Game 7 starter, as a competitor, as a pitcher, as a talent, Kerry Wood isn't likely to succumb to that kind of thinking. But that kind of thinking is drenching Chicago like a two-day rain, even as we speak. The fans here have seen the Cubs go down this road before and the road never led to happy endings. It is hard for mere mortals to avoid these thoughts when all the other mere mortals seem to be preoccupied with them.
Two plays Tuesday night had, "Oh, no, not another Cubs catastrophe," written all over them. Both occurred during the Marlins' eight-run, eighth-inning rally that led to an 8-3 defeat for the Cubs. There was the possible fan interference on a foul ball that looked to be catchable for left fielder Moises Alou. It was a bizarre event, the Cubs' chances being damaged by one of their own fans. And then there was the potential double-play grounder that was booted by Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez had been remarkably sure-handed at short this season, committing only 10 errors.
These were the sorts of things that happen to clubs that seize defeat from the jaws of victory. These were, over the years, typical Cubs kinds of things. They were not all typical of this Cub team, but there they were, anyway.
Cubs manager Dusty Baker did his best to dump the historical baggage. In particular he was having none of the "Curse of the Billy Goat." The very fact that somebody asked that question, though, tells you something about the current tone in the Windy City.
"No, it has nothing to do with the curse," Baker said. "It has to do with the fan interference, the very uncharacteristic error by Gonzo, because he doesn't miss anything. It has nothing to do with the curse, it has to do with their bats. History had nothing to do with this game, nothing."
Baker issued a plea for Cubs fans to stop thinking about the curse and get back on board in a whole-hearted, full-throated way for Game 7.
"We need them," Baker said of the fans. "We need their positiveness, we need their noise, we need them pulling for their team like they've never pulled before. This is probably one of the biggest games in Cubs history tomorrow."
On the other side of it, the Marlins, who are apparently not cursed, are riding the momentum of a two-game winning streak, a two-game, on-the-brink-of-elimination winning streak. While Wood is one of the Cubs' Big Two and is unbeaten in three postseason starts, the Marlins answer with lefty Mark Redman. He did not have a decision in his Game 3 start, but he worked very well, giving up just two runs in 6 2/3 innings.
The Marlins are in a good spot here, and not just because the Cubs are having to answer questions about a goat. Down, 3-1, the Marlins responded with a brilliant pitching performance by Josh Beckett in Game 5 and a stirring come-from-behing rally in Game 6. This was the fifth time in the 2003 postseason that the Marlins had come from behind to win. They have a right to feel good about themselves.
"We're definitely very upbeat," said Carl Pavano, who kept the Marlins' afloat with a solid Game 6 start. "We came into Wrigley and this is a tough stadium when it's packed and the crowd is into it. They definitely had the crowd in their favor. But I think we changed momentum. We came out and we played good ball to the end. We know we've got Game 7, another do-or-die game, and we're looking forward to the challenge."
On paper, the matchup favors Wood and the Cubs at home. But the intangibles favor the team that doesn't have to answer endless questions about a history in which it personally had no part.
"We still have Kerry Wood going, and it's going to be tough to beat both those guys (Wood and Prior)," Baker said. "I still like our chances very much."
Certainly, but while Redman will simply be pitching for the Marlins, Wood will be pitching for the Cubs and against history. Wood's ability is unquestioned. But the load he carries here may be even larger it looks. How much is riding on this for the Cubs? This will be a Game 7 that will either break the break the historical spell or deepen the decades of gloom.
Mike Bauman is the national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.