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8-run 8th inning propels Marlins past Cubs

10/15/2003

CHICAGO (AP) -- Five outs to go. Wrigley Field crowd on its feet. World Series within their grasp.

Then, it was almost as if the baseball gods realized these were the Chicago Cubs.

Those lovable losers blew it again thanks in part to -- of all
things -- one of their own fans.

In a stunning eighth-inning turnaround, the Florida Marlins took
advantage of left fielder Moises Alou's run-in with a fan on a foul
fly and an error by shortstop Alex Gonzalez to score eight runs in
an 8-3 victory Tuesday night, forcing the NL championship series to
a Game 7.

"I don't know about the fan robbing them," Marlins manager
Jack McKeon said. "I don't think that was the turning point of the
game."

He might've been the only person in the ballpark who felt that
way.

Mark Prior, Sammy Sosa and the Cubs cruised into the eighth with
a 3-0 lead, all set to end their 58-year absence from the World
Series.

What followed was a sudden collapse that would rival anything in
the Cubs' puzzling, painful past -- and the emergence of baseball's
most infamous fan since Jeffrey Maier.

A 26-year-old wearing a Cubs hat prevented Alou from catching
Luis Castillo's ball. Given a last-gasp chance, the Marlins broke
loose. That's about when security decided to escort the fan out. He
threw a jacket over his face for protection, but not before other
fans hurled beers in his direction.

"You cost us the World Series!" one fan yelled at him.

Alou said: "Hopefully, he won't have to regret it for the rest
of his life."

Now, after the Marlins' second straight win in the series, it
goes down to Wednesday night. Ace Kerry Wood will pitch for
Chicago, while the Marlins will go with Mark Redman.

"It has nothing to do with the curse," Cubs manager Dusty
Baker insisted. "It has to do with fan interference and a very
uncharacteristic error by Gonzalez. History has nothing to do with
this game, nothing."

The eighth inning began easily enough, with a flyout to Alou.
But Juan Pierre doubled, and sheer disaster followed.

Castillo lifted a fly down the left-field line and Alou ran
toward the brick wall, ready to do anything it took to make the
catch.

Instead, the fan reached up for the ball -- not over the wall,
though -- and deflected the ball away.

"I timed it perfectly, I jumped perfectly," Alou said. "I'm
almost 100 percent that I had a clean shot to catch the ball. All
of a sudden, there's a hand on my glove."

Left-field umpire Mike Everitt correctly ruled no interference.
Unlike the 12-year-old Maier in the 1996 ALCS at Yankee Stadium,
this fan did not reach over a wall.

"The ball was in the stands. It was clear," Everitt said. "I
just zeroed in on the ball, and it was an easy call."

Alou slammed his glove in anger, and many fans in the crowd of
39,577 booed and began to pelt the fan with debris.

"The ball was in the stands, the umpire saw that," McKeon
said. "I didn't think there was any interference. I don't think
that was the turning point in the game."

Chicago fire fighter Pat Looney was seated next to the fan,
whose identity was not released, and said there was no misconduct.

"It looked like it was out of play. Don't blame him," Looney
said. "I should've pushed him out of the way. If I saw Alou
coming, I would have.

"He wasn't leaning over. He was behind the rail, he didn't know
Alou was coming," he said. "It looks like I touched the ball, but
I didn't. I got 50 hate calls already. The firehouse where I work
is being bombarded."

Castillo then walked, and the crowd sensed trouble brewing. Ivan
Rodriguez hit an RBI single and Miguel Cabrera followed with a
grounder in the hole that the sure-handed Gonzalez simply dropped
for an error that loaded the bases.

"For whatever reason, I didn't catch the ball," Gonzalez said.
"It seemed like the spin on the ball ate me up. I didn't think it
would get to me that fast."

Derrek Lee stepped up and hit a drive into the left-field
corner, pumping his fist even before he reached first base, and the
two-run double tied it.

Prior was pulled and Kyle Farnsworth came in and intentionally
walked Mike Lowell to load the bases. With the crowd sitting in
stunned silence and Prior blankly staring, Jeff Conine hit a
go-ahead sacrifice fly.

Mike Mordecai broke it open with a three-run double off the wall
in left-center, his shot hitting near a splash of red-and-orange
ivy, and Pierre added an RBI single.

It had to be a haunting reminder for Baker. Last October, his
San Francisco Giants took a big lead into the late innings of Game
6 of the World Series, and wound up losing the game and series to
Anaheim.

Chad Fox got the win and Prior took the loss, although
long-suffering fans in Chicago -- still waiting for the Cubs' first
Series championship since 1908 -- will certainly blame the fan.

The Cubs have never clinched a postseason series at home, and
had not even reached the World Series since 1945. Those droughts
will continue for another day, and possibly a lot longer.

"We've just got to go out and play better ball tomorrow,"
Baker said.

Prior was dominant until the eighth, allowing until only three
hits until then.

And once again, Kenny Lofton got the Cubs off to a fast start.

Lofton led off the first with a single, moved up on a sacrifice
and scored his NLCS record-tying eighth run on Sosa's
opposite-field double to right. That run gave the Cubs a 12-0
margin in the first inning of this series.

Sosa and Alou singled to start the sixth against Marlins pitcher
Carl Pavano. With two outs, reliever Dontrelle Willis threw a wild
pitch that let Sosa scamper home.

Mark Grudzielanek made it 3-0 with an RBI single in the
seventh.

Game notes
Rodriguez tied the NLCS record of nine RBI set by San
Francisco's Matt Williams in 1989. ... Sosa shattered his bat on an infield single in sixth, and the barrel skittered out near second base. Two bat boys sprang from the dugout to retrieve the pieces. Unlike at road parks, where broken bats by Sosa prompt catcalls of "Cork!" no derisive shouts were heard at home. ... Cubs 1B Randall Simon provided a comic moment in the second. He jumped up for Conine's liner and the ball popped out of his glove, bonking him in the head on the way down. Conine got an infield single and
Simon was fine.