CHICAGO (Ticker) --
put the hammer down early. His
' teammates kept pounding from start to finish.
Prior escaped two early jams and tossed seven-plus effective innings and
hit two of the Cubs' four home runs as they posted a 12-3 triumph over the
, tying the National League Championship Series at one game apiece.
The 23-year-old righthander, who emerged as the Cubs' ace during an 18-6 season, was not as unhittable as he was in his first postseason start - a two-hitter against the
on Friday. But Prior worked out of trouble in the first and second innings, and his offense staked him to a quick 5-0 lead.
The five-run cushion might as well have been 100 against one of the league's nastiest starters. Prior cruised, allowing a pair of solo homers in the sixth inning before being hurt by an error in the eighth.
"I was pretty confident coming into today's game," Prior said. "I knew these guys were going to be out swinging the bats well, like they have the last three or four weeks. It was a big game for us."
By the time Florida broke through in the sixth, he was protecting an 11-0 bulge. The only question regarding Prior was his pitch count - 116.
"We knew how many pitches he had and our number was 115," Cubs manager
said. "And he went over it by one. That's why I went out and got him."
Prior (2-0) allowed three runs - two earned - and eight hits, striking out five and walking two. More importantly, he has won all but one of his last 13 starts.
"He has good control and a great breaking ball," Florida left fielder
said. "He just pitched the way he had to, kept us in check."
"He's pretty good," Marlins center fielder
added. "He didn't have his best stuff and he still beat us."
Prior admitted to using the big lead to work on a few things.
"Sometimes it is tough to keep it up when these guys come out and give me a 10-run lead," he said. "That is what every pitcher dreams of, if anything, and it gave me a chance to work on things. Playoff games aren't necessarily a chance to work on things, but I got a chance to work on my changeup and see guys' reaction to it."
With the Marlins struggling to get anything going, the Cubs teed off on Florida starter
Gonzalez homered in the fifth and sixth innings, giving him four in the last three games. Chicago also got four hits, two RBI and a run scored from
"I've always been a streaky hitter when it comes to power," Gonzalez said. "When I go up there, by no means am I trying to hit home runs. I'm trying to get a good pitch and get a good swing."
"Things go in streaks, he's being more aggressive," Baker added. "He's hitting the ball straightaway, not trying to pull it too much."
Penny was tagged for seven runs and seven hits in two-plus innings.
"I didn't get my breaking ball over for strikes," he said. "They just kept hanging and I wasn't locating well. I kept getting behind. ... It was just a bad night."
The series shifts to Florida for the next three games. Game Three is Friday and features Chicago's
against Marlins lefthander
"We are going to have our horse going Friday," Sosa said. "
has been unbelievable lately. And winning today makes us feel more comfortable and excited. Friday will be unbelievable."
"We're very happy coming out with a split against a very good ballclub," Florida manager Jack McKeon said. "It worked out all right. It is pretty tough to go into the opposition's ballpark and win two in a row."
Florida threatened in the first, putting two aboard with two outs. But Prior struck out rookie
to end the threat.
In the bottom of the inning, the Cubs jumped on the Marlins' starter for the second straight night as Simon's bases-loaded single plated
Florida threatened again in the second, putting runners at the corners with none out. But Prior responded, striking out Marlins shortstop
and Penny before getting Pierre on an infield popout.
"That was a huge bases-loaded, two-out hit by
," Baker said. "And it was big for (Prior) to get out of that inning, first and third and no one out. And it still remained 2-0.
"To get out of the second inning with no runs and just kind of take a little air out of their balloon or whatever you want to say, I think it was big for us."
Chicago scored three times in the second, highlighted by Sosa's homer, which traveled an estimated 495 feet.
"That was pretty far," said Pierre. "I haven't seen one go that far to center. But he is a strong man and if anyone is going to do that, it would be him."
"Two of mine equaled the one of his," joked Sosa's teammate, Gonzalez.
That was all Prior needed as the Marlins all but ran up the white flag.
"He has great stuff," Florida first baseman
said. "He throws it 94, and toss in a good curveball and slider, and I don't think he had his best stuff tonight."
Ramirez opened the third with a home run and Chicago tacked on two more runs to build an 8-0 lead.