- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

CHICAGO — Once the ball flew off Sammy Sosa’s bat and soared toward the juniper bushes in dead center field, there was no telling how far it might go.

And if he keeps hitting like this, there’s no telling how far his Chicago Cubs might go.

The Cubs put on a startling display of raw power at the plate and on the mound last night, and behind Mark Prior overwhelmed the Florida Marlins 12-3 to even the National League Championship Series after two games.

Alex Gonzalez homered twice and Aramis Ramirez also connected for the Cubs. But once again, Sosa woke up Wrigley Field.

“This is the prime time to do it,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. “He really hasn’t had a hot streak all year. It seems when he does, he hits a home run every at-bat.

“I’m hoping it’s on the way. Boy, it’s coming right on time,” he said.

A day after he tied the game with a two-out, two-run shot in the ninth for his first postseason home run, Sosa hit a two-run drive in the second inning that went even farther.

By a lot.

Sosa launched a 495-foot shot that cleared the ivy-covered wall, sailed over the shrubbery that serves as a batter’s backdrop and threatened to fly completely out of the park. Only a television camera booth kept the ball from becoming a street souvenir.

Teammate Kenny Lofton, who was on third base, shuddered as he watched it go. Marlins center fielder Juan Pierre didn’t even bother to move.

“He hit that a mile. He can do that every once in awhile,” Gonzalez said.

Coming off his two-hit gem in the opening round against Atlanta, Prior was good enough. Of course, being handed an 11-0 lead after five innings helped the 23-year-old keep his composure.

“We fell behind too early. When you’re down 8-0 in the third inning, you’re in trouble,” Marlins manager Jack McKeon said.

Asked whether he had rethought his strategy about pitching to Sosa, McKeon bucked up.

“Did he beat us? Enough said,” he said.

Now, the best-of-7 series shifts to Pro Player Stadium for Game 3 tomorrow night. While the Marlins are one of baseball’s best home teams, the Cubs must like their chances with Kerry Wood pitching against Mark Redman.

Wood pitched a two-hitter and a three-hitter against the Marlins this year, striking out a total of 20, and is 4-0 against them lifetime.

Following the Marlins’ 9-8, 11-inning win in the opener when the teams combined for an NLCS-record 17 extra-base hits, hitters again wore out the gaps and corners.

This time, the big hits went in Chicago’s favor and so did the little ones. Lofton tied an NLCS mark with four hits, all singles.

Prior cruised until the sixth, when Derrek Lee and rookie Miguel Cabrera led off with consecutive home runs that made it 11-2.

Despite the big lead, the sellout crowd of 39,562 was well aware of how resilient the Marlins are. In fact, all four of their wins in this postseason have been comeback victories.

But before anyone could get too worried, the Cubs put any notion of a remarkable rally to rest. Left fielder Moises Alou ran back toward the wall to catch a long drive by pinch-hitter Mike Lowell, and the relay to first caught a stumbling Jeff Conine for an inning-ending double play.

Prior left with two on and no outs in the eighth to a standing ovation, having allowed three runs. Along with shutting down the Marlins, he shook them up by hitting a foul ball that scattered the Florida relievers sitting on a bench down the right-field line.

Baker found a neat way to finish it off, too. He brought in reliever Mark Guthrie, who served up Lowell’s game-winning, pinch-hit homer in the opener, for the last two outs.

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