Ramirez powers Cubs to within one win of Series

MIAMI (AP) -- Sammy Sosa, Matt Clement and their teammates are

amply aware of the Chicago Cubs' past failures.

Something else seemed pretty certain, too, once Aramis Ramirez's

long drive landed fair. No cruel Cubs twist here -- after nearly a

century of futility, fortune finally seemed to be in their favor.

Game 4 breakdown

Unsung Heroes

Kenny Lofton and Sammy Sosa. The two players walked a combined five times -- Lofton in the first and fourth innings and Sosa in the first, third and eighth innings -- and came around to score in four of those plate apperarances.

Goat

Dontrelle Willis. The Marlins' rookie left-hander walked three of the first four batters he faced in first inning. Aramis Ramirez then made him pay for his wildness by hitting a grand slam over the left-field wall. In all, Willis gave up six runs -- all earned -- and lasted just 2 1/3 innings.

Turning Point

No more than 10 minutes into the game and it was basically decided when Willis couldn't find the strike zone. The Marlins never recovered after the Cubs put up a four-spot in the opening inning.

It Figures

The Cubs have scored a combined 11 runs in the first inning in the first four games of the series. They've also scored at least one run in the opening inning in each of the four games.

On Deck

Josh Beckett will get the start in Game 5 for the Marlins with Florida facing elimination. He'll be opposed by Carlos Zambrano. Beckett and Zambrano matched up in Game 1. Both received no-decisions as the Marlins won the game, 9-8, in 11 innings.

Ramirez hit the first grand slam in Cubs' postseason history,

added another homer and drove in six runs as Chicago moved within

one win of its first World Series since 1945 by trouncing the

Florida Marlins 8-3 Saturday night in Game 4 of the NL championship

series.

"We're trying to do our job so we don't have to hear about 95

years of being a loser,'' Sosa said. "Now when they hear about the

Cubs, they'll hear about something else.''

Clement pitched his team to a three games to one edge, getting a

standing ovation from thousands of Cubs fans when he left in the

eighth inning. Marlins fans were still mostly in shock, having seen

rookie Dontrelle Willis get shelled.

"What it would mean for the city of Chicago, the fans and the

players who suffered all those years, it would be tremendous,''

Clement said. "Let's just go one game at a time here and hopefully

the sooner the better to win another one.''

Ramirez's slam came in the first inning, and the Cubs led 7-0 by

the fourth.

"It's going to be crazy out there,'' said Ramirez, acquired

from Pittsburgh on July 22. "I was pretty excited when I hit

that.''

The Cubs can wrap it up Sunday at Pro Player Stadium, when

Carlos Zambrano faces Josh Beckett in Game 5.

Then again, don't count on anyone in the Chicago clubhouse to

celebrate too early. After all, these are the Cubs, who haven't won

the championship since 1908. They lost the 1945 Fall Classic to

Detroit in seven games.

Needing only one more win to make the World Series in 1984, they

blew a 2-0 lead to San Diego in the best-of-five NLCS. Marlins

manager Jack McKeon was the Padres' general manager that year, by

the way.

So would he give these Marlins a little history lesson Sunday?

"I might do it,'' he said.

Only three times in LCS play and five times in the World Series

have clubs overcome a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series. For

the wild-card Marlins to do it, they'll have to win games started

by Cubs aces Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.

"I think if you go back through the record book, there are a

lot of teams that have come back,'' McKeon said. "You can't give

up.''

A night after Ramirez had to scramble at third base to record

the final out for a 5-4 win in 11 innings, the Cubs cruised.

Willis, traded for Clement right before the 2002 season started,

walked the bases loaded with one out in the first inning. Sweat was

beading on his face on a humid night as the 21-year-old All-Star

rookie faced Ramirez for the first time in his career.

Ramirez launched a 2-2 pitch deep down the left-field line, and

hung around to watch it land inside the foul pole. Cubs fans among

the LCS-record crowd of 65,829 roared as Ramirez rounded the bases.

Ramirez added an RBI single in the third as the Cubs chased

Willis, who walked a career-high five. Even though the Marlins have

trailed in all eight of their postseason games this year, no amount

of resiliency could overcome such a deficit.

As if for emphasis, Ramirez lined another home run in the

seventh. His six RBIs set a Cubs record for the postseason.

"I wouldn't want to count us out yet,'' Willis said. "We've

climbed out of tougher holes than this.''

Clement kept the Cubs ahead, giving up an RBI single to

pinch-hitter Todd Hollandsworth and an RBI double by Ivan

Rodriguez.

Chicago wound up sending Florida to losses at home in

consecutive days for the first time since July 19-20, when the Cubs

did it.

Kenny Lofton kept pestering the Marlins, this time drawing a

walk to lead off the game. The vocal Cubs fans cheered loudly as

Lofton trotted to first and Florida fans tried to shout them down.

Willis struck out Mark Grudzielanek, then the real problems

started. Willis walked Sosa and Moises Alou on four pitches each,

loading the bases.

By then, Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell, Rodriguez and

pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal had all made separate trips to the

mound hoping to settle down the rookie.

As Rick Helling heated up in a hurry in the bullpen, Willis

regained his touch -- at least for a fleeting instant. He got two

quick strikes on Ramirez and there was a foul ball that landed in

the stands just beyond Lowell's reach.

Ramirez then lifted a high drive to left that clearly had enough

distance. The only question was fair or foul, and Ramirez hung

around outside the batter's box to get a better view.

There wasn't any doubt as the ball came down at least 10 feet

inside the pole. Willis did a quick twirl on the mound while the

Cubs' runners whirled around the bases.

Sosa walked again in the third, Alou singled and Ramirez

grounded an RBI single through the right side. A walk to Eric

Karros loaded the bases, and that was it.

Willis shook his head, chomped his gum and tossed the ball up

and down as McKeon came out to get him. Willis flipped the ball

underhanded to his manager and jogged off the mound, pounding his

glove as he reached the dugout.

Alex Gonzalez hit an RBI single on Helling's first pitch.

When the inning ended, Rodriguez walked into the tunnel leading

from the dugout to the clubhouse and put his left arm around

Willis' neck, giving him a pep talk.

Alou made it 7-0 with an RBI single in the fourth.

Game notes

The Cubs and Marlins have combined for 16 homers, an NLCS

record. ... Lofton has scored six first-inning runs in nine

postseason games this year. ... The Cubs have outscored Florida

11-0 in the first inning of the NLCS. ... Rodriguez has a hit in

all eight of Florida's postseason games.