By MIKE LOPRESTI
Gannett News Service
MIAMI - For the Chicago Cubs, the World Series dry spell that started with Harry Truman in the White House seems ready to expire, clubbed to death by a batting order on a homer binge. One more win will do it, one more thumbing their nose at their futile history.
Cubs 3B Aramis Ramirez hits a grand slam off Florida Marlins pitcher Dontrelle Willis in the first inning.
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One more assault on Florida's starting pitchers, such as Saturday night, when Aramis Ramirez' first-inning grand slam off Dontrelle Willis - the first four of his six RBI - grabbed the night before it hardly began, and got the Cubs on their way to an 8-3 victory in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.
"You've got to close it out," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "They're not going to give it to you. You can't think about it until it's over."
If there is any jinx or curse, it is cornered now. The Chicago lead is 3-1, with three chances to clinch their first National League pennant since 1945 - here Sunday or two games back in Chicago if needed.
"A lot of clubs have come back from (3-1)," Florida manager Jack McKeon said. "We're not out of it. We're going to be battling tomorrow."
Actually, only one team the past 17 years - Atlanta over St. Louis in the 1996 LCS - has survived a 3-1 deficit.
And there is no sign the Marlins can cool them down. The Cubs have scored 33 runs in this series and hit an NLCS record 10 home runs, two by Ramirez Saturday. They have scored 11 times in the first inning alone - while the Marlins have scored none - an earned run average of 24.75 for Florida's starters in the first at-bat.
"We haven't been getting the mileage out of them," McKeon said of his starters. "We're down 4-0 every night."
The Cubs were ahead 7-0 in the fourth inning Saturday.
The Marlins are noted for their knack for the comeback, but this is asking too much. Any good bullpen work against Chicago was irrelevant, and Cubs starter Matt Clement could breeze to a five-hitter until he left in the eighth.
Willis was Saturday's victim, looking not like the phenom of the summer, but a rattled rookie in October. He was gone in the third inning, having given up six runs, five driven in by Ramirez.
The D Train derailed. He walked the bases loaded in the first. Then Ramirez, fouling off pitch after pitch, wore down Willis until he got a pitch down the middle, and sent a towering shot just fair down the left field line. "I just wanted to put it in play," Ramirez said.
Willis walked two more in the third, and Ramirez and Alex Gonzalez drove in runs with singles.
McKeon has become most annoyed about the walks in the series. Of the five batters Willis walked, four scored.
"Ridiculous," he called them. "Let them hit the ball. Let them earn it."
The lead grew to 7-0 in the fourth on Moises Alou's RBI single. After the Marlins closed to 7-2 in the fifth, Ramirez' second homer made it 8-2 in the seventh. Ivan Rodriguez' double gave him his 13th postseason RBI and made it 8-3 in the eighth.
It was an efficient night's work by a pitcher sometimes lost in the shadow of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood ... and even the 21-year-old sensation he was facing Saturday night.
"That's the most relaxed," Clement said, "I've been for a start in a long time."
It was a night for the Cubs to show what all the new blood has meant to them.
Ramirez was a Pittsburgh Pirate until July. So was Kenny Lofton, who led off the first inning by getting on base, as he has done in seven of Chicago's nine postseason games.
Combined with Randall Simon, the three ex-Pirates are hitting .413 in this series with 19 hits, 13 RBI and four home runs. They have come from the outback to the cusp of a World Series.
"By this time," Ramirez said, "we were supposed to be home watching the postseason on TV."
Clement used to be a Florida pitcher, traded to Chicago in the spring of 2002 in a six-player deal that sent, among others, a promising kid named Dontrelle Willis to the Marlins.
But with the Cubs - those rare visitors to October - it is the year for the new, the unusual, the unexpected.
Saturday was their third postseason victory in a row. The last time that happened was 1907.
And Ramirez gave the team its first postseason grand slam in franchise history.
The LCS record crowd of 65,829 was promptly taken out of the game - except for the generous slice of Cubs fans. There was no loud advantage for Florida. Only murmuring masses who can now see the writing on the wall. The Marlins lost consecutive home games for the first time since early August.
As for the Cubs, they do not look like a team with the slightest intention of crumbling. In short, they do not look like the Cubs at all. Or what the Cubs used to be.
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