Game 6 wrapup: Marlins 8, Cubs 3
CHICAGO -- Refusing to lose, the Marlins staged a remarkable, improbable rally that stunned the Cubs, 8-3, Tuesday night in Game 6 by evening the best-of-seven series at Wrigley Field.
A shocked crowd of 39,577 that was anxious to celebrate the Cubs reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945 witnessed one of the most unusual comebacks in postseason history.
Down 3-0 with one out in the eighth, the Marlins pieced together yet another unbelievable rally, scoring eight runs in the inning, aided by a fan deflecting a foul ball away from left fielder Moises Alou, and a crucial error by shortstop Alex Gonzalez.
"We were supposed to just fall over and play dead," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. "I told you [media], these guys, they are tough. They are going to battle you all the way. We didn't come to play one game. We came in to make it the seven-game series. ... Our guys are resilient. They don't quit. You've got to love them for that."
McKeon and the Marlins now have a bit of history on their side, too. Of the four teams that have come back from a 3-1 deficit in a seven-game NLCS, three have gone on to win Game 7: the '85 Royals over Blue Jays; the '86 Red Sox over the Angels; and the '96 Braves over the Cardinals. The only team to come up short in this situation was the 1992 Pirates, who lost to the Braves.
Tuesday's comeback seemed impossible, judging by the way Cubs starter Mark Prior had been dominating. But the Marlins found a way to piece together a team postseason record eight runs in the inning, with only three earned. By doing so, they have come back in five of their six postseason victories.
The Marlins sent 12 batters to the plate, and had some magic work their way.
Juan Pierre doubled with one out, and the direction of the inning turned when Luis Castillo lofted a lazy foul near the wall. Alou went to the brick wall and made a leaping attempt. As his glove went into the seats, a fan seeking a souvenir deflected the ball from the outfielder. It was close to fan interference, but left-field umpire Mike Everitt ruled it foul.
"I got another chance," Castillo said. "When Alou went in the stands, I thought he caught it. Then I thought he dropped it. I didn't know what happened. I saw the [replay] and Moises would have caught it."
When play resumed, Prior walked Castillo. Ivan Rodriguez, with two strikes on him, lined an RBI single, and a memorable inning was unfolding.
"We got lucky right there, really," said Rodriguez, who has hit safely in 10 postseason games. "And we took advantage of that. Then we scored eight runs."
More Chicago misfortune came when Miguel Cabrera hit a grounder to shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who bobbled the ball, loading the bases. If handled cleanly, the Cubs get at least a force at second, and perhaps a double play.
"I was running hard and would have slid head first to first to not get the double play," Cabrera said.
Derrek Lee's two-run double tied the game, and Prior was lifted for Kyle Farnsworth. Mike Lowell was intentionally walked, again filling the bases.
The Marlins went ahead, 4-3, on Jeff Conine's sacrifice fly to right. After pinch-hitter Todd Hollandsworth was intentionally walked, Mike Mordecai ripped a three-run double. Juan Pierre added an RBI single, completing the scoring.
Rodriguez's RBI gives him nine in the NLCS, tying a record set by Matt Williams for San Francisco in 1989.
"Prior was throwing a great game," Rodriguez said. "I don't know if he got tired in the eighth. He left a couple of balls over the plate. He left me a slider on 0-2 over the plate, and I hit it over third base. Then we started from there."
Mordecai, an unlikely hero all season who belted extra-inning, game-winning home runs in key games over the Braves and Dodgers, points to the fan deflection as opening the window for the comeback.
In the dugout, the team was mumbling, Mordecai said: "Here we go. We appreciate that. ... They will be talking about that for a long time. We need to send that guy a box of chocolates."
With the dramatic win, the Marlins now hope to become the fourth team since the LCS went to a best-of-seven format in 1985, to battle back from a 3-1 deficit and win the pennant.
Prior, masterful through seven innings, suffered the loss, giving up five runs (three earned) in 7 1/3 innings. The hard-throwing right-hander struck out six and walked three.
Prior had been 11-2 after Cubs' losses, and everything was going Chicago's way until the eighth.
In relief, Chad Fox collected the win.
"This is how we play," McKeon said. "Open the door, and we'll charge right through it."
The Marlins penchant for falling behind early continued as the Cubs scored a run in the first inning on Sammy Sosa's RBI double.
Chicago has outscored Florida, 12-0, in the first this series.
If there was a positive for the Marlins in the inning, it was the fact starter Carl Pavano didn't make bad pitches.
Sosa's double came on a sinker away.
"It was a pitcher's pitch," said Pavano, who had a successful first postseason start, giving up two runs in 5 2/3 innings. "He hit the pitch I wanted."
Again, Kenny Lofton jump-started the inning with a leadoff single. Mark Grudzielanek's sacrifice bunt pushed Lofton to second, and he trotted home when Sosa poked an opposite-field double.
Lofton has scored eight runs, tying an NLCS record. And the Cubs center fielder has scored in the first inning in seven of Chicago's 11 playoff games.
Pavano had some tough luck in the sixth inning. Sosa led off with an infield single on a pitch that shattered his bat. Alou's single put runners on first and second. Pavano then got Aramis Ramirez to bounce into a 6-3 double play, with Sosa moving to third.
Dontrelle Willis, the starter in Game 4, then made his second relief appearance of the playoffs. The rookie came in to face lefty Randall Simon. The Cubs countered with pinch-hitter Eric Karros. Willis was tagged with a wild pitch on ball four and Sosa raced in to make it 2-0.
The Cubs' lead grew to 3-0 in the seventh on Grudzielanek's two-out RBI single off Fox. Willis, who started the inning, gave up a leadoff hit to Paul Bako. Prior helped himself with a sacrifice bunt. After Willis struck out Lofton, Fox entered in relief. But the right-hander's first pitch was knocked into center field by Grudzielanek.
Along with some eye-rubbing moments, Game 6 resulted in the Cubs and Marlins setting records for most RBIs (65) and total bases (202) in an NLCS.
And for the first time in the series, neither team homered.
The Marlins are feeling confident heading into Wednesday night's Game 7 -- and considering they came back from a 19-29 record on May 22 and a 3-1 deficit in this series -- that's understandble.
"No matter what happens, we're walking out of here with our heads up," Mordecai said. "And I hope we're going to an American League city [for the World Series]."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.