- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2003

CHICAGO — 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 last night, forcing the National League Championship Series to a Game 7.

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 stunning collapse that would rival anything in the Cubs’ puzzling, painful past.

Now, after the Marlins’ second straight win in the series, it goes down to tonight. Ace Kerry Wood will pitch for Chicago, while Marlins manager Jack McKeon will go with Mark Redman.

The inning began easily enough, with Prior getting the first out. But Juan Pierre doubled, and sheer disaster followed.

Luis 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, a man who seemed to be in his 20s, reached up for the ball — not over the wall, though — and appeared to deflect the ball away.

Left-field umpire Mike Everitt correctly ruled no interference — unlike 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier in the 1996 American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium, this fan did not reach into the field of play.

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

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 Gonzalez simply dropped for an error that loaded the bases.

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 Cubs manager Dusty 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 World Series championship since 1908 — certainly will blame the fan.

To add to the hurt, the fan was wearing a Cubs cap. Once the rally got in full swing, fans around him starting hurling beers in his direction and he was escorted out by security with a jacket over his face.

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

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.

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. 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.

Carl Pavano pitched well in his first career postseason start, getting his chance in place of ineffective Brad Penny. Pavano kept the game close into the sixth, and the second run charged to him scored on Willis’ two-out wild pitch.

Until this year, Pavano been best known as the answer to a couple of trivia questions. He was traded for Pedro Martinez after the 1997 season and gave up Mark McGwire’s 70th home run the next year.

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 first baseman 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.

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