- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003


In spring training, Dusty Baker scoffed at the notion of the Curse of the Billy Goat on his Chicago Cubs. When someone suggested he bring the goat to Wrigley Field to get rid of the curse, Baker said, “I eat goat.”

Yesterday the goat — and Chipper Jones with two home runs — took a chunk out of Dusty and his Cubs. Jones led the Atlanta Braves to a 6-4 win before 39,983 at Wrigley Field, where most of the spectators expected their Cubs to close out the National League Division Series and move on to the National League Championship Series.

Instead, the series will move back to Atlanta tonight — Wrigley Field South, based on the number of Cubs fans in attendance at Turner Field for the first two games.

Kerry Wood will face Russ Hampton again. Cubs fans should feel good about that, given how overpowering Wood was (7⅓ innings, two hits, two runs and 11 strikeouts) in Game 1.

“You’ve heard the term ‘pitcher’s stuff,’” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “He’s got stuff.”

However, the Cubs are not blessed with a history of good fortune and can ill afford to give opponents second chances. They had the Braves down 2-1 after Mark Prior’s two-hit complete game performance Friday and yesterday faced an Atlanta team minus slugger Gary Sheffield — he missed the game after being hit by a pitch on his left hand Friday. Sheffield’s .330 average, 39 home runs and 132 RBI were replaced by Darren Bragg and his. 241 average and nine RBI.

The Cubs looked to Michael Jordan, who visited the Cubs clubhouse after Friday night’s 3-1 win, to counteract the curse of the goat. However, given Jordan’s run of bad luck off the court these days, the Cubs may want to direct him to the Atlanta clubhouse.

“He can pretty much have free reign and go where he wants in anybody’s clubhouse,” Baker said.

Michael Jordan — America’s clubhouse attendant.

The Braves might have some powerful magic working for them. What sort of spells is Julio Franco working with? He is listed as 44 years old, but is believed to be two or three years older. Heck, he was playing when Baker was a player and has been out of major league baseball five times in the past eight years.

Yet Franco, playing first base in place of Robert Fick, went 3-for-4 and a scored a run. When Franco heard that the Marlins had won their series, he must have gotten excited at the prospect of getting the early bird special in South Florida.

“Julio hit the ball well at the end of the season,” Cox said. “I thought it might be worth it to try something to shake up our bats. Julio is a professional hitter. He has been since he was 15 years old.”

Of course, that may have been when Eisenhower was president.

The Braves played liked a team ready to be beaten — they committed four errors Friday — but Cox acted like he knew something.

“All we have to do is win two ball games,” he said. “We’ve done that hundreds of times.”

Except in the World Series that is.

It’s easier to win two ball games when you have Prior and Wood — potentially this postseason’s version of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. Wood said he is ready to take the ball tonight on short rest.

“This time of year, you put that stuff aside and realize what’s at stake, and you do it,” he said. “I don’t think you make a habit of it, because it changes your routine a little bit. But if you need to go in, you’ve got to do it.”

Here’s the Cubs’ routine — they usually don’t play deciding games in the postseason, and when they have, they’ve lost — to the San Diego Padres in Game 5 of the 1984 NLCS was the most recent. They also lost Game 7 to Detroit in the 1945 World Series. I think Julio Franco went 3-for-4 for the Tigers that day, too.

“You have to win these kind of games to be a championship team,” Dusty said. “Now it’s down to a one-game series.”

That’s because yesterday, Cubs pitcher Matt Clement allowed four runs on eight hits and four walks in just 4⅔ innings.

They would have been better off with the goat.

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