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Archive for Friday, October 3, 2003

Former Cubs ace facing current one

Atlanta’s Maddux taking on Chicago’s Prior

October 3, 2003

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— Mark Prior was more worried about Little League hitters back when Greg Maddux won his first Cy Young Award in 1992 with the Chicago Cubs.

"I don't remember a whole lot at 12. Obviously I know what he's done with the Braves, and I hear about what he did with the Cubs," Prior said.

Maddux was the great one who got away, the pitcher who bolted Chicago as a free agent, won three more Cy Youngs with the Braves and became the centerpiece for 12 straight division championships.

Now, more than a decade later, it's the 23-year-old Prior who has developed into the Cubs' hope for both the present and the future, an 18-game winner in just his first full major-league season.

A Prior-Maddux matchup gives even more flavor to tonight's Game 3 of the NL playoff series between Atlanta and the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The series is tied at 1.

Prior grew up watching Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling "and a lot of power pitchers who I think I resemble a lot," he said.

"Watching (Maddux) work is pretty awesome because he doesn't have an overpowering fastball, but he knows how to change speeds, knows how to make guys expand their zone and make them do what he wants them to do. ... He's kind of a student-professor. He knows every hitter, every ballpark. He knows every umpire."

Maddux, now 37, became the first pitcher in major-league history to win at least 15 games in 16 straight seasons, a streak he started with the Cubs back in 1988.

"Greg to me is exactly the same pitcher as I saw with us in '93, when we got him," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He looks exactly the same."

Tonight, Maddux will be making his 31st postseason appearance -- all but two as a starter -- while Prior takes the mound for the first time ever in the playoffs.

"You have the new young lion on our side, and you have the veteran lion of many wars on the other side. That's intriguing in itself," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.

"Power versus finesse. Baseball intellect in Maddux, and you got power and rising baseball intellect in Prior."

Informed that Baker had referred to the matchup as a young lion against a veteran one, Maddux chuckled and said: "It's better than being just old, I guess."

Maddux has done this before. He pitched against the Cubs in the 1998 playoffs at Wrigley Field, beating then-rookie Kerry Wood to complete a three-game sweep.

Maddux knows how tricky the old ballpark can be with its winds and still recalls the loyalty of the fans to the home team.

"I'm sure I'll get called a few things. I'll go out there and try to pitch," Maddux said.

"Part of being a Cub fan is getting on the other team. I would be very surprised if there weren't things said to me when I'm warming up. It's perfectly normal to be called something before the game starts, during the game and after the game. Some of them are funny."

Facing Maddux with his assortment of speeds and locations usually isn't so amusing for hitters.

Sammy Sosa's first season with the Cubs was Maddux's final one in Chicago.

"He's the type of pitcher that he's never going to give up. No matter what the situation," Sosa said.

And how about Prior?

"It's too soon to talk about Prior," Sosa said, "but the year he's been putting together, he's got a beautiful future ahead of him."

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