Cubs lead series 2-1

CHICAGO (AP) -- Mark Prior was nervous. After all, he was
pitching in the playoffs for the first time and facing Greg Maddux.

"It was surreal to be in that dugout in the first inning and
watch a guy I've watched my whole life growing up," Prior said.

"Obviously there is nervousness and a little anxiety. You
wouldn't be human if you weren't anxious in this situation. It's
the playoffs, you lose and you go home."

It never seemed to bother him.

The 23-year-old right-hander threw a two-hitter and outpitched
Maddux as the Chicago Cubs beat the Atlanta Braves 3-1 Friday night
to take a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five NL playoff series.

"I was looking forward to this game, win or lose. I knew it
would be a learning experience," Prior said.

"I knew it would be a lot of fun and something you never

Prior again showed the poise of a veteran and shut down the NL's
top hitting club.

"He had great stuff, and he's really hard to hit," Atlanta
manager Bobby Cox said. "We didn't hit that many balls hard. He
was a little wild early, and we didn't take advantage of it."

It was the first complete game by a Cubs pitcher in the
postseason since Claude Passeau threw a one-hitter to beat the
Detroit Tigers 3-1 in Game 3 of the 1945 World Series.

"If you told me I would go out and throw a complete game, there
is no way I would have thought that tonight," Prior said.

"As Dusty (Baker) would say, the stars lined up and things
worked out."

Matt Clement will start Saturday, when the Cubs try to capture
their first postseason series since winning the 1908 World Series.
Russ Ortiz, the Braves' 21-game winner who took the loss in Game 1,
will go on three days' rest.

The Braves will need to wake up their bats and start catching
the ball after making four errors Friday.

Atlanta led the NL in every major hitting category this season:
batting average (.284), homers (a franchise-record 235) and runs
(907, another club mark), but Prior was simply too good.

"This offense is very good, you've got to respect what they can
do," Prior said.

He gave up only Marcus Giles' single to shallow right-center in
the third and Mark DeRosa's pinch-hit double leading off the
eighth. Atlanta spoiled the shutout when DeRosa moved up on a
groundout and scored on Giles' sacrifice fly.

Prior, who won 18 games in his first full major league season,
walked four, struck out seven and was bolstered by a frenetic crowd
at Wrigley Field.

"I tried to stay calm and focused and make pitches," Prior
said. "The crowd has been awesome all year."

The Cubs got to Maddux in the first on Randall Simon's two-out,
two-run single that followed a key stolen base and wild pitch.
Aramis Ramirez, acquired from the Pirates during the season just as
Simon was, added a two-out RBI double in the eighth, and Prior made
it stand up.

"I thank Pittsburgh for letting us have them, and they've been
absolutely awesome for us," Prior said.

Maddux lasted six innings, giving up six hits and two runs in
his 31st playoff appearance, including 29 starts.

"We've got a good pitcher tomorrow and the best hitting team in
baseball. We can still force a fifth game," Maddux said. "We've
done it before."

Cox said Maddux hurt his calf muscle in the first and third
innings but pitched through it.

"I thought he did a great job pitching on one leg," Cox said,
adding that he's confident the Braves can still win the series.

"I don't feel like we're scrambling. I'm not down at all," Cox
said. "All we have to do is win two games, and we've done that
hundreds of times."

It was Giles who collided with Prior on the basepaths July 11,
hurting the young right-hander's shoulder and eventually landing
him on the disabled list.

When Prior came off the DL on Aug. 4, he was one of baseball's
most dominant pitchers, going 10-1 down the stretch to lead the
Cubs to their first division title since 1989 -- when Maddux was
still in Chicago.

Prior also hit Gary Sheffield in the left hand with a pitch in the sixth, but got out of the inning when Chipper Jones and Javy Lopez hit into forceouts.

Sheffield, who bruised his hand, was 0-for-2 with a walk and is
just 1-for-10 in the series.

Maddux, who won the first of his four Cy Young Awards in 1992,
his last year with the Cubs, gave up two first-inning runs, and the
Braves couldn't catch up.

Simon dropped a single to right in front of Sheffield as Wrigley
Field went bonkers with Cubs fans doing their version of the
Tomahawk Chop.

Chicago increased the lead to 3-1 in the eighth when Moises Alou
singled off Kevin Gryboski, stole second and scored when Ramirez
hit a drive into the ivy in right-center for a ground-rule double.

With the Braves coming to bat in the top of the ninth, the crowd
began to chant in unison: "Let's Go, Prior!"

Prior showed a few early jitters in his first playoff game,
issuing back-to-back walks to Sheffield and Jones with two outs
before fanning Lopez to end the threat.

"I think the first two walks, I was letting the crowd and the
whole surrounding environment affect me," Prior said. "I saw what
Greg did, taking some time. He felt like he was in control."

As the Cubs were being introduced about 15 minutes before the
first pitch, a hard rain began to fall at Wrigley Field, sending
the grounds crew scrambling to get the tarp on the field. The start
was delayed 31 minutes.

Game notes
The ball-strike feature on the old scoreboard in center
field malfunctioned in the first inning and a half, and balls and
the count had to be put on the message board. ... Most fans were
bundled in coats. Game-time temperature was 54 degrees. Announced
attendance was 39,982. ... Maddux beat the Cubs in Game 3 to clinch
the 1998 division series.