Not since 1969 had a Cubs season begun with such anticipation. Coming off the 2003 division title and subsequent playoff collapse, the Cubs had brought Greg Maddux back and traded for Derrek Lee, bolstering the rotation and the offense.
The late-September collapse isn't something I wanted to relive in this series, so instead, here's the story of a stirring comeback and walkoff win early in that season.
The Cubs were off to a mediocre 5-4 start when the Reds -- who were not a good team that year, going 76-86 -- came to town for a weekend series at Wrigley Field. Sergio Mitre had won the fifth spot in the rotation that year and was making his second start of the season. He got hit hard, allowing eight hits, four walks and four runs in five innings. Michael Wuertz took over and was worse. He faced six hitters: single, home run, single, home run, fly out, walk, before Dusty Baker had mercy on him and lifted him.
So it was 9-4 Reds entering the bottom of the sixth, and the Cubs started coming back. They scored one in the sixth and two in the seventh and eighth, which would have been enough to tie the game, except that Wily Mo Pena homered off Kyle Farnsworth in the eighth.
Entering the last of the ninth, then, the Cubs trail 10-9 and Danny Graves, who had been a pretty good closer for the Reds the year before (32 saves, just seven home runs allowed in 98⅔ innings) came in to close it out. John Mullin of the Tribune tells what happened next:
The Cubs shook off the ejection of their manager and the collapse of their bullpen Friday to rally from a five-run deficit with six runs in the final three innings, including home runs by three of their last five batters, for an 11-10 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, their third in a row. Todd Hollandsworth's two-run pinch homer in the eighth was followed in the ninth by consecutive home runs by Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou, the second time in the game the Cubs hit back-to-back homers.
The Sosa home run was his 512th in a Cubs uniform, tying Ernie Banks for the franchise record. It came on the ninth pitch of his at-bat; Alou took ball one from Graves before hitting his walkoff blast.
One other thing of note happened on that warm, windy Friday at Wrigley:
Dusty Baker was ejected after an emotional outburst following a failure to inform the umpires of a double switch that altered his batting order and potentially cost the Cubs a run.
Oh, Dusty. The mistaken double switch happened in the top of the seventh. Alex Gonzalez had made the last out in the bottom of the sixth, and Baker had intended to bring Kent Mercker in to pitch and Ramon Martinez to play shortstop, with Mercker batting in Gonzalez' spot, the eighth spot in the order, with Martinez hitting ninth -- so Martinez would have led off the bottom of the seventh inning. Here's what happened then, via Retrosheet:
In the top of the seventh inning, Cubs manager Dusty Baker intended to place two new players in the lineup with a double switch but failed to tell Umpire C.B. Bucknor. When the Cubs batted in the bottom of the inning, shortstop Ramon Martinez came to the plate in the ninth spot in the order and doubled. The Reds protested that the Cubs were batting out of order. Pitcher Kent Mercker, the proper batter, was called out. Baker argued with the umpires but was told that the call stood. Yelling & screaming, he tossed his lineup card on the ground and was ejected by Bucknor. Baker threw his hat, walked away and returned; he tossed his hat again, stomped to the dugout and kicked some items in the on deck circle before finally leaving the field.
That's the most passion we saw from Baker the entire four years he was the Cubs' manager.
It all worked out, luckily for Baker. When Martinez and the pitcher's spot came up again in the eighth, Martinez drew a walk and Todd Hollandsworth batted for Farnsworth. Hollandsworth hit a two-run homer, making the score 10-9 and setting up the ninth-inning heroics.
If only the rest of that season had been as heroic.