Marlins 8, Cubs 3

Wednesday, October 15th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ Moises Alou, Alex Gonzalez and the Chicago Cubs had it right in their hands _ the ball, the game and a trip to the World Series.

And then it all slipped away, and left the Wrigley Field crowd blaming one of its own.

In a startling eighth-inning turnaround, the Florida Marlins took advantage of Alou's run-in with a fan on a fly ball and an error by Gonzalez to score eight runs for an 8-3 victory Tuesday night, sending the NL championship series to a Game 7.

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

Mark Prior, Sammy Sosa and the Cubs cruised into the eighth with a 3-0 lead, set to end their 58-year absence from the World Series. At that point, it was almost as if the baseball gods woke up and realized these were the Cubs.

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 down the left-field line.

``When it happened, Mark Redman said to me, `Let's make this fan famous,''' Florida's Derrek Lee said.

They did.

Given the 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.

Marlins manager Jack McKeon disagreed.

``I don't know about the fan robbing them,'' he said. ``I don't think that was the turning point of the game.''

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

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 Redman.

Home teams have won 12 of the last 13 times a baseball postseason series went to Game 7. Anaheim did it last year, winning the World Series against a San Francisco team guided by Dusty Baker, now the Cubs' manager.

``It has nothing to do with the curse,'' Baker insisted after this loss. ``It has to do with fan interference and a very uncharacteristic error by Gonzalez. History has nothing to do with this game, nothing.''

When it comes to bouncing back from tough losses in October, it's a mixed bag.

The Giants lost last year after blowing a late lead in Game 6 in Anaheim. Arizona recovered from two awful defeats to beat the Yankees in 2001. Boston lost after the Bill Buckner game in 1986.

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

Castillo lifted a fly down the 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.''

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 said.

Alou had calmed down when the game ended.

``At the time, I was real upset,'' he said. ``But at same time, I kind of feel bad for the guy now, because every fan in every ballpark, their first reaction is they want a souvenir. Nobody's going to think about the outcome of the game.''

With another opportunity, Castillo walked, and the crowd sensed trouble brewing. Ivan Rodriguez hit an RBI single and Miguel Cabrera followed with a grounder to Gonzalez that the sure-handed shortstop 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.''

Lee hit a two-run double that tied it and Prior was pulled. Kyle Farnsworth came in and intentionally walked Mike Lowell to load the bases, and 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.

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.

``When something like that happens, you cannot rewind it or get it back,'' Sosa said.

The Cubs have never won a postseason series at home, and have not even reached the World Series since 1945. They won their last Series championship exactly 95 years ago Tuesday.

Prior pitched three-hit ball into the eighth. Sosa hit an RBI double off Carl Pavano in the first, and singled and scored on Dontrelle Willis' wild pitch in the sixth.

Notes: Rodriguez tied the NLCS record of nine RBIs 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.