Prior ready to go
CHICAGO -- Shortly after the Marlins shut out the Cubs, 4-0, in Game 5 of the NLCS Sunday at Pro Player Stadium, manager Jack McKeon summoned Carl Pavano into his office.
In a conversation that lasted a few minutes, Pavano was informed he would be starting Game 6 of the best-of-seven series Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.
"Definitely it was a surprise," said Pavano, Florida's fifth starter who has been used in the bullpen for the playoffs. "This is a challenge I take with open arms. I am glad for the opportunity to start for the Florida Marlins."
Pavano made 32 starts in the regular season, but nothing the magnitude of what is at stake Tuesday night.
The Marlins trail the Cubs in games, 3-2, and face elimination with a loss. Going in Chicago's favor is home-field advantage and stellar starter Mark Prior.
With a knack of making the right moves all season, McKeon has opted to use Pavano in this pivotal game over 14-game winner Brad Penny.
"Pavano has pitched extremely well out of the bullpen," McKeon said. "I think he matches up better against the Cubs than Penny."
Penny, the Game 2 starter in Wrigley Field, was roughed up for seven runs in two-plus innings. The hard-throwing right-hander surrendered a mammoth 495-foot home run to center by Sammy Sosa and a solo shot by Aramis Ramirez.
Pavano, who has thrown one scoreless inning of relief in the NLCS, was 2-0 in the Division Series against the Giants.
In the postseason, the right-hander has not given up a run in 3 2/3 innings.
"This is a fun and exciting challenge," said Pavano, who was 12-13 (4.3) in the regular season.
Pavano faced Chicago at Wrigley Field on July 9. The Cubs won that day, 5-1, behind Kerry Wood's complete-game, three-hitter with 11 strikeouts.
Pavano gave up three runs on seven hits in seven innings.
The outing was significant in the Marlins' season because afterwards, general manager Larry Beinfest intensified trade talks that led to reliever Ugueth Urbina being acquired two days later.
In the matchup with Wood, Pavano had given up one run through seven innings. The game was tied at 1-1 heading into the bottom of the eighth. Already over 100 pitches, Pavano opened the eighth because McKeon liked his chances against the heart of the Cubs' order.
The strategy didn't work.
Mark Grudzielanek doubled to open the inning and Sammy Sosa connected on a two-run homer, giving the Cubs a 3-1 lead. After Moises Alou singled, Pavano was lifted. The damage was done.
After Urbina was acquired, McKeon acknowledged had the reliever been around on July 9, Pavano wouldn't have been asked to open the eighth.
In facing the Cubs in Game 6, Pavano is mindful of pitching Sosa carefully. But as big a focus as the Marlins' veteran has on Sosa, he is cautious of leadoff hitter, Kenny Lofton.
Lofton is 9-for-22 (.409) with seven runs scored in the NLCS.
"He is one of those guys who is going to make things happen," Pavano said. "He's not my main focus, but part of my focus. I have to stay away from the big innings, and the bases on balls, obviously."
A bigger focus is Sosa.
In 10 career at-bats, Sosa has five hits with a double and two homers off Pavano. An interesting decision is whether the Cubs opt to start infielder Ramon Martinez, who is 5-for-7 (.714) against the Marlins right-hander.
"Quality pitches will be key," Pavano said. "With Sammy, I don't want to put him in hitter's counts. At any point, he could change the outcome."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.