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Braves heartbroken again
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10/05/2003 10:53 PM ET 
Braves heartbroken again
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Chipper Jones reacts to his strikeout in the first inning by Kerry Wood. (Barry Williams/MLB.com)
Game 5 wrapup: Cubs 5, Braves 1

ATLANTA -- For more than six months, Braves fans wondered whether this would be the year that a potent offense would bring them more than simply a 12th consecutive division title.

Meanwhile, a rabid set of fans stirred in Chicago hoping that for the first time in 95 years, they might finally be given the opportunity to watch the Cubs celebrate a postseason series victory.

Thanks to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, Chicago will remain abuzz about their Cubs and the city of Atlanta will have to wait another year for the chance to once again realize the ultimate October satisfaction they last enjoyed in 1995.

Wood's postseason dominance was on display once again when the Cubs ended the National League Division Series with a 5-1, Game 5 win over the Braves in front of 53,775 fans at Turner Field on Sunday night.

"Nobody likes to lose," said Javy Lopez, who has seen the Braves win just three of their past 10 home postseason games, including the past six that came on the brink of elimination.

"It's not fun at all. Everybody knows we had a trememdous team. We showed it all year. Every time you keep coming to the playoffs and not make it out [of the first round] it's just sick. It's very, very disappointing."

While the Cubs, who will now play the Marlins in the NLCS, celebrated their first postseason series win since 1908, a franchise-record home crowd was left to once again wonder how another 100-win season went unfulfilled.

"I don't think this was a huge upset," said John Smoltz, a harsh critic of the five-game series. "But when you look at our wins versus their wins and how they got in versus how we got in, I'm sure on paper it looks like a great big upset, especially with the history of the Cubs."

Since Turner Field opened in 1997, Braves fans have been forced to watch a visiting team celebrate a postseason series victory every year but 1999, which is also the most recent season Atlanta was blessed with the opportunity to host World Series games.

"It's very disappointing to lose in the first round," Lopez said. "With the team that we had, I didn't think there was any way we would have lost like that. We all know [the Cubs] have pretty good pitching. But with our offense we all know we could have done better than we did and that's including myself."

Wood almost duplicated his Game 1 performance, while limiting the Braves to just one controversial run on five hits in eight innings. During the NLDS, the hard-throwing right-hander allowed just seven hits over 14 1/3 innings against a team that led the National League in almost every statistical category.

"You're not going to find, with the exception of Steve Avery, two better pitched games in a series," said Smoltz, who was Avery's Braves teammate when the then-young southpaw tossed 16 1/3 scoreless innings in the 1991 NLCS against the Pirates.

The Braves' lone run against Wood in the decisive game came when Rafael Furcal raced home on a Gary Sheffield sixth-inning single to center that as replays showed actually was caught by a sliding Kenny Lofton in center field.

But the Braves, who were also limited to just two hits in a complete-game Prior effort in the third game of this series, needed a lot more fortune to overcome Wood and the early deficit the Cubs created against Braves starter Mike Hampton, who was making his sixth career start, second in the postseason, on three days' rest.

"I think in a nutshell, our offense let our pitchers down a little bit," Marcus Giles said of the Braves pitching staff that posted a respectable 3.68 ERA in the series. "But that's the way the game goes. Hats off to our pitchers, we couldn't ask for a better performance."

Hampton, who had gone 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his previous outings that came on short rest, needed 30 pitches to escape a first inning in which he fortunately saw the Cubs score just once, courtesy of a broken-bat Moises Alou RBI single that Chipper Jones was unable to track down in left field.

One inning later, Alex Gonzalez drilled a leadoff homer that easily cleared the center-field wall and provided Wood with all the support he needed. Hampton, who allowed four earned runs on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings, was also touched for a sixth-inning, two-run homer from Aramis Ramirez that further dampened the spirits around Atlanta.

"We liked our chances as well as they liked theirs," said Gary Sheffield, whose team held a lead at the end of just nine of the series' 45 innings. "You just can't get behind in the playoffs."

Jones, who had become the first player in Division Series history to hit a homer from both sides of the plate in Saturday's win, struck out in his first two at-bats against Wood and then hit into a double play that ended the Braves' sixth-inning threat.

Sheffield, who missed Game 4 because of a significantly bruised right hand he suffered when he was hit with a Prior pitch on Friday, accounted for two of the five hits the Braves managed against Wood.

"It's kind of old hearing that guy threw a good game every year," Giles said. "We're good hitters too. Offensively, we just didn't get it done. Offense can be like a roller coaster and unfortunately we're on the downside right now."

Lopez, who along with Sheffield is now a free agent, contributed a two-out double in the fourth that accounted for one of the seven extra-base hits the Cubs surrendered in the series against the Braves, who hit 37 more home runs than any other National League team this season.

"When you get beat by Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, you're going to hear those names for a long time, you can call it bad timing or whatever," Smoltz said. "But the fact is we didn't accomplish what we set out to do."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.





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