Welcome back to our look at the 2003 Cubs. When last we looked in, the Cubs had wrapped up a 7-3 homestand after winning five of the final six and the last three games of the homestand. They had moved into first place by a game, though who is really counting in April? But, after a 95 loss season in 2002, there was definitely some excitement brewing. The Cubs would go on the road for a quick three game set with lots of momentum on their side. They’d face a Pirates team that they’d just taken two of three from a week earlier. Could they do it again?
Game 17, April 18 - Cubs 7 at Pirates 2 (11-6)
Mark Grudzielanek was in his age 33 season for the Cubs. He was first drafted by the Mets in 1989 in the 17th round, but didn’t sign. Two years later he was drafted by the Expos and did sign that time around. By 1995, Mark was making his major league debut and playing second, short and third for the Expos. But in 1996, he would settle in as the every day shortstop for the Expos and make the only All-Star game of his career. In December of 2002, he and Eric Karros were traded to the Cubs for Chad Hermansen and Todd Hundley. Mark was also once traded for later Cub Ted Lilly. The two were never teammates with the Cubs, but I found it amusing. Mark was the regular second baseman for the Cubs in 2003 and part of 2004. In his career, he played in 1,135 games and had 7,603 plate appearances for six teams. While I remember him most as an Expo, he actually played much more for the Dodgers. He won a gold glove at second for the Royals in 2006.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Matt Clement (.285). Matt threw seven inning and allowed two hits, three walks and one run while striking out 10.
- Hero: Hee-Seop Choi (.099). Choi had two hits, including a double, and drove in two runs.
- Sidekick: Mark Grudzielanek (.090). Mark had three hits, including a double, score two runs and drove in another.
- Billy Goat: Damian Miller (-.047). Damian had a walk and a sacrifice in four plate appearances. He also grounded into a double play.
- Goat: Corey Patterson (-.041). Corey had a sacrifice fly in four plate appearances.
- Kid: Mark Bellhorn (-.017). Mark had a single and an intentional walk in four plate appearances.
Game 18, April 19 - Cubs 6 at Pirates 1 (12-6)
Mark Prior started his 2003 season pretty hot. This was his fourth start of the year and his third Superhero award. That 2003 season was a glimpse of what could (should?) have been. Mark started 30 games, threw 211⅓ innings and allowed 183 hits, 67 runs (57 earned), 15 homers, struck out 245. He went 18-6 and had a 1.103 WHIP, a 2.47 FIP and a 2.43 ERA. He was selected to the All-Star team, finished third in the Cy Young voting and ninth in the MVP voting. Eric Gagne won the Cy Young that year behind 55 saves and a 1.20 ERA and Jason Schmidt was second in the voting with a 17-5 record and 2.34 ERA. What might the 2007 and 2008 seasons have looked like with Mark anchoring the rotation?
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Mark Prior (.347). Mark threw nine innings in this one and allowed six hits, two walks and struck out six. He allowed one run. Unfortunately, this one went to the 10th tied 1-1.
- Hero: Mark Grudzielanek (.158). Other Mark had one hit in five tries, but he scored one run and drove in the go ahead and eventual winning run with one out in the 10th.
- Sidekick: Hee-Seop Choi (.072). Choi had a double and an RBI in the fourth inning for the Cubs only run in regulation. He was hitless in his other three at bats.
- Billy Goat: Corey Patterson (-.105). After we drop Prior’s hitless with two strike outs day, that leaves Corey in the bottom spot. Corey had one hit in five plate appearances. He also grounded into a double play.
- Goat: Sammy Sosa (-.030). A two-run single in the 10th wasn’t enough to keep him out of here. That was his only hit in five plate appearances. He also scored a run.
- Kid: Ramon Martinez (.003). An appearance of the positive goat. Ramon had a sacrifice fly in his only time to the plate.
Game 19, April 20 - Cubs 2 at Pirates 8 (12-7)
Shawn Estes made 28 stars for the Cubs in 2003. He finished 8-11 with a 5.73 ERA (5.04 FIP). He allowed 182 hits and 83 walks in just 152⅓ innings of work. He allowed 20 homers and was charged with 113 runs (97 earned). He struck out 103 hitters. In 2004, it got a little bit worse as he lead all of the major leagues by being charged with 131 earned runs in his one season as a starter for the Rockies. At just 30 years old for the Cubs in 2003, surely the Cubs hoped he would have a bit more in the tank than he did. It is somewhat remarkable that Estes was allowed to make 281 starts in his career with a 4.71 ERA (4.50 FIP). He really wasn’t a very good pitcher after 2001 but pitched in parts of seven more seasons.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Sammy Sosa (.188). Sosa hit a two run homer in his first at bat. But he was hit by a pitch in the fourth and left the game. He did return to the lineup for the next game though and didn’t miss any time.
- Hero: Ramon Martinez (.010). Martinez drew a walk in his only plate appearance.
- Sidekick: Paul Bako/Juan Cruz (.009). Bako had a hit and a walk in three plate appearances. Cruz threw three innings and allowed three hits, hit a batter and allowed one run.
- Billy Goat: Shawn Estes (-.483). Shawn lasted just three innings and allowed seven hits, three walks and seven runs (five earned). He only struck out one.
- Goat: Alex Gonzalez (-.057). Alex was hitless in four at bats.
- Kid: Corey Patterson (-.039). Corey was also hitless in four at bats. He struck out twice.
The Cubs took two out of three from the Pirates for the second time over a 10 day period. With that, they had moved out to a 12-7 record and a two game lead in the National League Central. They’d head back home having won seven of nine to face the Padres after an off day. Despite 10 runs scored between the two teams, that Sunday loss to the Pirates played in just 2:18. Just two minutes slower than the previous Estes start. At least those bad starts were going quickly. The Cubs played 17 games in 2:20 or less that season.
That’s it for this week. I hope everyone has a Happy (and safe) Thanksgiving! Next week we’ll return with two more installments of this series. The first of those will be another quick one as we cover the three game home set against the Padres. Until then, take care and thanks for reading.