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Cubs historical Heroes and Goats: 2003, Part 2

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Games 7-16 were played at Wrigley Field.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Cubs opened the season with six road games and they alternated wins and losses for a 3-3 start to the season. Certainly, a split on the road is a decent start to the season. A couple of the losses were close games and so the opening trip certainly didn’t register as a disappointment. The Cubs would come home for a 10 game homestand. Surely, this would provide a good litmus test for what this team might be.

With 10 games to look at this time around, buckle up for a long one.

Game 7 - April 8: Cubs 6 - Expos 1 (4-3)

Alex Gonzalez started out the 2003 season by reaching the Hero podiums in five straight games. So who is this guy? Alex was selected by the Blue Jays in the 13th round of the 1991 draft. He first reached the majors in 1994 with the Jays. He came to the Cubs in a trade following the 2001 season in a trade for Felix Heredia. He was traded early in his third season as a Cub in 2004. Alex played 13 seasons in the big leagues for six teams, playing in a total of 1,396 games and having 5,528 plate appearances. That despite a career line of just .243/.302/.391.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Matt Clement (.262). Matt was superb in this one. He pitched into the eighth inning (7⅓ innings) and allowed only three hits. He had five strike outs and five walks. He allowed one run on a solo homer.
  • Hero: Alex Gonzalez (.179). Six trips to the Hero podiums in the first seven games. Alex had three hits, including a double, and also scored three runs. He was walked in his other plate appearance.
  • Sidekick: Mark Grudzielanek (.130). Mark lands here despite a day in which he had just one hit in five plate appearances. He did score two runs.
  • Billy Goat: Sammy Sosa (-.091). Sammy had a hit and a walk in four plate appearances. He drove in one run. Grounding into a double play landed him here.
  • Goat: Corey Patterson (-.057). Corey was hitless in four at bats and struck out twice.
  • Kid: Damian Miller (-.051). Miller had exactly the same line as Corey.

Game 8 - April 9: Cubs 3 - Expos 0 (5-3)

We interrupt our regularly scheduled player bios to take a look at the seventh largest WPA game by a Cubs player in the 2003 season. This one was by Mark Prior. Prior opened the season as the third start on the Cubs, but he laid a claim to being staff ace in this game. Matching up with Expos star Javier Vazquez, this one figured to be a pitcher’s duel. This didn’t disappoint. Damian Miller hit a two run homer in the bottom of the second to give the Cubs the early lead. Prior allowed a single in the first but then didn’t allow another hit until he allowed a single in the sixth. He’d allow a double in the seventh for the only runner to reach second and a single in the ninth. He notched 12 strike outs with no walks in the complete game shutout.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Mark Prior (.519). Two starts, two superheroes.
  • Hero: Damian Miller (.236). Not only had the key two-run homer in the second, had two other hits and scored the third run.
  • Sidekick: Mark Grudzielanek (.030). Mark had one hit in four at bats.
  • Billy Goat: Alex Gonzalez (-.067). The streak ends in a big way with four strike outs in four at bats.
  • Kid: Hee Seop Choi (-.063). The Cubs struck out fifteen times in this one and drew no walks. Choi was two of those strike outs in three at bats.

Game 9 - April 10: Cubs 1 - Expos 7 (5-4)

Lenny Harris was in his age 38 season when he came to the Cubs in 2003 as a free agent. He had originally been drafted in the fifth round by the Reds in 1983. He reached the majors for the first time in 1988 with the Reds. Lenny lasted 18 seasons in the majors, playing for eight different teams. He had 1,903 games played and 4,289 plate appearances. He even made one appearance as a pitcher throwing a perfect inning and striking out one. Lenny’s hallmark was defensive flexibility, seeing time at all four infield positions and all three outfield positions. Looking over Lenny’s profile, I’m most irritated that he won a World Series ring... in 2003.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Sammy Sosa (.022). Sammy lands here despite never putting the ball in play. He walked twice and struck out twice.
  • Hero: Mark Grudzielanek (.015). Mark probably deserved that top spot. He recorded two hits, including a double, and scored the game’s only run. He struck out twice.
  • Sidekick: Kyle Farnsworth (.001). Kyle threw one scoreless inning, though it was not at all uneventful. He walked one and allowed a hit. He did strike out one.
  • Billy Goat: Shawn Estes (-.286). Shawn threw six innings allowing eight hits, a walk and five runs (two earned). He did strike out five.
  • Goat: Lenny Harris (-.059). Harris struck out twice in three hitless at bats.
  • Kid: Hee Seop Choi (-.054). Choi matched Harris with two strike outs in three at bats.

Game 10 - April 11: Cubs 2 - Pirates 3 (5-5)

Eric Karros was in his age 35 season with the Cubs in 2003, having been traded with Mark Grudzielanek to the Cubs for Chad Hermansen and Todd Hundley. Eric was drafted in the sixth round of the 1988 draft by the Dodgers. He reached the majors in 1991 for a small number of games, but then was Rookie of the Year in 1992. He played 12 seasons for the Dodgers, won a Silver Slugger and twice finished in the top 20 of the MVP voting. Eric played in 14 seasons in the major leagues, logging 1,755 games played a 7,100 plate appearances. The years he spent in LA were lean years for the Dodgers and so Eric only played in the post season in three different seasons and only advanced out of the first round once, that being with the Cubs in 2003.

Three Heroes: Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Moises Alou (.261). Moses had two hits including a double, he walked and he drove in two runs.
  • Hero: Dave Veres (.053). Dave pitched a scoreless inning allowing one hit.
  • Sidekick: Mark Guthrie (.048). Mark retired the only batter he faced, escaping a jam inherited from starter Carlos Zambrano.
  • Billy Goat: Eric Karros (-.287) Eric had one hit in four at bats. But he also grounded into a key double play.
  • Goat: Mark Bellhorn (-.202). Mark only batted three times, but he was hitless and he too grounded into a double play.
  • Kid: Tom Goodwin (-.150). Tom was hitless in four at bats. He struck out twice.

Game 11 - April 12: Cubs 4 - Pirates 0 (6-5)

Did I say that Mark Prior had established himself as the Ace? Well, that start was slightly better than this one, but another Cubs draftee Kerry Wood shone in this one. Wood was the fourth overall pick in the 1995 draft. Kerry reached the majors in 1998 and won Rookie of the Year honors, helping to lead those Cubs to the playoffs. After missing all of the 1999 season due to injury, he had his first full season in 2002 and was looking to build upon that in 2003. And build he did, making his first of two career All-Star appearances. Kerry’s career was limited by injuries, but even with the injuries he made 178 starts over a 14 year career, He also finished 138 games and logged 63 saves. Kid K was a Cub in two stints totaling parts of 12 seasons. He pitched in parts of two seasons for the Indians and in one for the Yankees.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Kerry Wood (.437). Kerry threw eight innings, struck out 13 and walked four. He allowed only three hits.
  • Hero: Damian Miller (.113). Miller again powered a Cub shutout with two hits including a two-run homer. He scored two runs.
  • Sidekick: Corey Patterson (.043). Corey had a double, a stolen base and scored two runs.
  • Billy Goat: Hee Seop Choi (-.066). Choi had just one walk to show for four plate appearances. He struck out twice.
  • Goat: Alex Gonzalez (-.038). Alex was hitless in four at bats with one strike out.
  • Kid: Mike Remlinger (-.020). Mike faced two batters in the ninth inning and walked one of them.

Game 12 - April 13: Cubs 4 - Pirates 3 (7-5)

Corey Patterson was the third overall pick in the 1998 draft for the Cubs. He made his makor league debut in 2000 and 2002 was his first full season in the majors. He was another Cub looking to build on some promise shown in 2002. He was, like Mark Prior (to a much lesser extent), a reason for the Cubs’ optimism in 2003. Corey would suffer an injury mid-season in 2003, which is simultaneously fortunate and unfortunate. He was having the best offensive year of his career. But, the Cubs made a trade, that they very well may not have made otherwise, that helped catapult the team in both the short and long term. We’ll talk much more about that trade later, but that trade brought Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez to the Cubs. Corey would have a 12 year career, which is nothing to sneeze at. But he never did live up to the promise and hype of a third overall pick. He did play in 1,230 games and had 4.499 plate appearances. He played for seven teams.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Corey Patterson (.321). Corey had four plate appearances in this one that included a single and two walks. He drove in a run and scored another.
  • Hero: Damian Miller (.177). Miller had only three plate appearances, but he made them count. He had a bases-loaded walk and an RBI single.
  • Sidekick: Joe Borowski (.165). Joe pitched a perfect ninth for the save.
  • Billy Goat: Mark Grudzielanek (-.192). Mark was hitless in four at bats.
  • Goat: Ramon Martinez (-.098). Ramon was also hitless in four at bats.
  • Kid: Moises Alou (-.082). Moises had one hit and a run scored in four at bats.

Game 13 - April 14: Cubs 3 - Reds 11 (7-6)

Damian Miller was drafted in the 20th round of the 1990 draft by the Twins. He didn’t reach the majors until a brief stint in 1997. He then went to the Diamondbacks in the 1997 expansion draft. He played there until he was traded to the Cubs for two minor leaguers. Once again, Miller represented a source of optimism. He’d been an All-Star for the DBacks in 2002, albeit in a largely unremarkable season. Damian had an 11 year career for five teams. He played in 989 games and had 3,558 plate appearances.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Mark Bellhorn (.239). Mark had a single, a double, a sacrifice fly and two RBI in four plate appearances.
  • Hero: Moises Alou (.111). Four different Cubs had two hits in this one, but the Cubs only managed three runs on 11 hits. Moises had two hits and an RBI.
  • Sidekick: Sammy Sosa (.081). Sammy had two hits, including a double, and scored twice in four at bats.
  • Billy Goat: Mark Prior (-.241). Two superhoes and a Billy Goat to start the season. In this one, Mark logged six innings. He allowed five hits and two walks while striking out six. Unfortunately, he allowed five runs (three earned).
  • Goat: Corey Patterson (-.217). Corey was hitless in four at bats and struck out twice.
  • Kid: Damian Miller (-.171). Damian was also hitless in four at bats. He only struck out once.

Game 14 - April 15: Cubs 11 - Reds 1 (8-6)

Sammy Sosa was signed in 1985 as an international free agent by the Texas Rangers. He was involved in trades involving Wilson Alvarez, Harold Baines and George Bell on his way to the Cubs in 1992. Sammy was a seven time All-Star. He won six silver sluggers. He won an MVP. He finished in the top 10 for the MVP six other times and received top 20 votes in two others. In one of my favorite stats, he lead the National League in homers twice (the majors once) and hit 63 or more homers three times and that describes five different seasons in a five year span. Sammy was a Hall of Famer statistically. He played in 2,354 games, had 9,896 plate appearances, 609 homers (ninth all-time), 1,667 RBI (30th all-time), and 234 stolen bases. The only player in the top 10 in Sammy’s similarity scores not in the Hall is Gary Sheffield (ninth most similar) and Gary was strangely over looked despite not really having a PED reputation that I’m aware of. Sammy, of course, hasn’t had any real consideration for the Hall because of the connections to PEDs, the corked bat incident, and for how critical some of his Cub contemporaries were of him. I will be more shocked if Sammy isn’t eventually enshrined than if he is.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Shawn Estes (.243). Shawn made what would be his second longest start of the season (both of which would be against the Reds) and his second highest game score. He threw eight innings and allowed only five hits, one walk, and one run. He struck out four.
  • Hero: Sammy Sosa (.157). Sammy had a huge game with two doubles, a homer, three RBI and an intentional walk in five plate appearances.
  • Sidekick: Mark Bellhorn (.157). Bellhorn was the other hitting hero. He had two hits, including a home run, two runs scored and he drove in three. He also had one walk in five plate appearances.
  • Billy Goat: Alex Gonzalez (-.067). Alex was hitless in five at bats. He was the only position player without a hit.
  • Goat: Corey Patterson (-.011). Corey had a double, a single, a run scored and two RBI in five plate appearances.
  • Kid: Kyle Farnsworth (.000). Blowouts produce innocent bystanders. Kyle threw a scoreless ninth, walking one and striking out one.

Game 15 - April 16: Cubs 10 - Reds 4 (9-6)

Hee-Seop Choi was another one of those reasons for optimism. He’d been signed to a bit of fanfare as an international free agent in 1999. He reached the majors in 2002 for short while but was expected to be a regular player for the first time in 2003. Of course, he was a first baseman only and we’ve also covered Eric Karros. I can’t ever recall a time where platooning at first base was a common occurrence. Choi was another Cub who’s career would be curtailed by injuries (though also ineffectiveness). He only lasted four years in the majors, played for three teams in that time and appeared in just 363 games and had 1,086 plate appearances. His biggest contribution to the Cubs would be getting traded to the Marlins for Derrek Lee after the 2003 season.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Sammy Sosa (.157) Sammy was notoriously a streaky hitter. Here, he stays hot with three walks and a homer in five plate appearances. He drove in three and scored twice.
  • Hero: Hee-Seop Choi (.129). Choi had a fun line. He reached all five times he went to the plate. He had a home run, drove in two and was walked four times.
  • Sidekick: Alex Gonzalez (.105). AGon had a big day at the plate with three hits and scored a run.
  • Billy Goat: Moises Alou (-.056). Alou actually had a three run homer in this one. But it wasn’t until the Cubs were leading 7-2 in the seventh. He was retired in his other four at bats.
  • Goat: Corey Patterson (-.053). Corey also had one hit in five at bats. The Cubs had 11 hits and drew 11 walks in this one.
  • Kid: Mark Bellhorn (-.030). Just two walks in his five plate appearances.

Game 16 - April 17: Cubs 16 - Reds 3 (10-6)

Mark Bellhorn was drafted by the A’s in the second round of the 1995 draft. He made his debut for the A’s at the age of 22 in 1997. He played with A’s until being traded to the Cubs after the 2001 season for a minor leaguer. Mark was another versatile player, logging time at all four infield and all three outfield spots in his career. Mark played for seven teams in his career and had 731 games played and 2,491 career plate appearances. In 2002, he had a breakout season for the Cubs with 27 homers (though on a pretty bad Cub team that was only good for 56 RBI). That season was his first full season in the majors. Again, you can see a theme that despite being terrible in 2002, the Cubs were piecing a few things together. Or at least it looked like they were. Mark struggled badly in 2003 and would be traded mid-season.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Corey Patterson (.183). Corey had a single, a double, a triple, three runs scored and two RBI in five plate appearances.
  • Hero: Kerry Wood (.138). Kerry threw six innings and allowed five hits, three walks, a home run and three runs. He struck out only three.
  • Sidekick: Mark Bellhorn (.141). Mark had a three hit (one double), one walk, three RBI day in only four plate appearances.
  • Billy Goat: Alex Gonzalez (-.023). Alex had a hit and a walk in six plate appearances. He scored once.
  • Goat: Damian Miller (-.018). Miller had just one walk in five plate appearances.
  • Kid: Mark Grudzielanek (-.009). Tough crowd. Mark had a double, a homer, three RBI, a run scored, and drew a walk in five plate appearances. One of the best lines you’ll ever see on a negative podium.

That Cubs/Reds series was an odd one. Very high scoring for mid-April in Wrigley Field with the winner scoring in double figures every day. The Cubs finished the homestand 7-3 on the strength of their first three game winning streak to close it out. The first win against the Reds pushed them into first place in the Central by half a game and by the end of the series they were a full game in first place. For a team that had lost 95 games the year before, that was quite the exciting development.

One of the themes I’ve been talking about as we get to know the players for this team was the optimism around the team. Andy MacPhail gets trashed around baseball circles for his work with the Cubs, but Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou, though both in their mid-30s, were both still potent bats. Damian Miller was a durable catcher with a little pop in his bat, Mark Grudzielanek and Eric Karros both had their best days behind them, but were both solid contributors. Corey Patterson and Hee-Seop Choi had come from the minors and there was hope that each would become a star. Mark Bellhorn had a huge 2002 season after finally getting regular playing time. Then there was that starting rotation with 21 year old star Mark Prior, 22 year old Carlos Zambrano and long time stalwart and de facto ace Kerry Wood who was a few years removed from his arm problems and was still only 26. Matt Clement and Shawn Estes were credible fourth and fifth starters.

There was reason for optimism and signs that there was actually some player development going on. In addition to those already named, Juan Cruz, Todd Wellemeyer, Sergio Mitre would all see time from the system. Kyle Farnsworth, another product of the farm, would emerge as the key set-up man. David Kelton and Bobby Hill would see some playing time as well. Maybe. Just maybe, the Cubs organization was turning a corner? We’ll continue to talk about that as the season goes on.

Next week will be a brief one. I’ll have just one article that should post on Tuesday covering a short three-game trip to Pittsburgh where the Cubs would look to keep their winning streak going and build on their division lead. We’ll then be off for the holiday. I’ll then return the following week with the usual two articles. Today was a long one for sure, so an extra thank you to those who are reading these. Please continue to share your recollections of the 2003 season in the comments.