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Cubs historical Heroes and Goats: 2003, part 8

A look at the final five games of a 13-game May road trip

Eric Karros
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When we last checked in the 2003 Cubs, they had just lost three of four to the Cardinals, after having swept a four-game set from the Brewers. The 5-3 start to the trip had the Cubs in first place by two games. Five games in five days would follow. Thanks to that four-game sweep, even two wins in five games would give them a wining trip, though after a hot start like that, you always start to dream a little bigger. Let’s see how it goes.

Game 45, May 21: Cubs 2 at Pirates 5 (25-20)

Eric Karros came to the Cubs as part of a trade before the 2003 season. It would be his age 35 season and turned out to be the second to last of his career. After 12 years as the primary starter for the Dodgers, he came to the Cubs as part of a platoon with promising young Hee-Seop Choi. Karros didn’t initially figure to get a ton of playing time as he and Choi were both only first baseman and Karros was the short end of the platoon. However, as we talked about last time, Choi would get injured and Karros would take over the every day job with the Cubs. He ended up hitting .286/.340/.446 in 365 plate appearances (OPS+ of 103). Those numbers are only marginally lower than his career numbers and better than he’d produced since 1999.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Mark Bellhorn (.095). Mark had a hit and a walk in four plate appearances.
  • Hero: Mark Grudzielanek (.069). The other Mark in this game had two singles and was hit by a pitch in four plate appearances.
  • Sidekick: Hee-Seop Choi (.055). Choi had a double in four at bats.
  • Billy Goat: Eric Karros (-.168). Eric pinch hit with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning. He grounded into a game-ending double play.
  • Goat: Kerry Wood (-.114). Kerry was tagged for five runs in just 5⅓ innings. He allowed seven hits, including two homers, walked two and only struck out three.
  • Kid: Corey Patterson (-.107). Corey was hitless in four at bats.

Game 46, May 22: Cubs 3 at Pirates 2 (26-20)

Matt Clement only made four starts in May of 2003. It was not a good month for him. He threw a total of 24 innings, allowed 29 hits, eight walks and 21 runs (20 earned). He struck out 21. He also allowed five home runs. He was the losing pitcher in three of the four games. The numbers would have been even worse without what was actually a pretty good start on this day.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Tom Goodwin (.412). Tom had a huge day at the plate. He had three hits, including a home run. Scored two runs and drove in one. This was the only homer of the season for Tom.
  • Hero: Matt Clement (.213). Seven innings pitched, six hits allowed. Of course, two of those hits were solo homers. He walked two and struck out six.
  • Sidekick: Joe Borowski (.206). Joe worked around a hit in the ninth to notch the save.
  • Billy Goat: Alex Gonzalez (-.291). Alex was hitless in four at bats.
  • Goat: Eric Karros (-.134). Eric had one hit and two strike outs in four at bats.
  • Kid: Paul Bako (-.096). Paul was hitless in three at bats.

Game 47, May 23: Cubs 5 at Astros 7 (26-21)

Alex Gonzalez had a tough month in May. He had 113 plate appearances. He had four double and five home runs. He scored 11 and drove in 15. But he struck out in 20.4% strike out rate and a line of .204/.259/.388. His BABIP was only .211, so perhaps some of it was poor luck. This line was good for a wRC+ of 65.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Ramon Martinez (.192). Martinez had a huge day at the plate with four hits and a walk in five plate appearances. He drove in a run and scored another.
  • Hero: Moises Alou (.049). Moises had two hits, including a double. He drove in one.
  • Sidekick: Antonio Alfonseca (.014). Alfonseca retired all four batters he faced to give the Cubs bats a chance to pull this one out.
  • Billy Goat: Mark Prior (-.385). Mark had a rough day, allowing seven hits, three walks and six runs. He struck out six. One of 11 times in his career that Mark allowed six or more runs (out of 106 career starts).
  • Goat: Eric Karros (-.096). Eric was hitless in four at bats.
  • Kid: Alex Gonzalez (-.081). Alex only had one at bat and he struck out to end the game, leaving runners at first and third.

Game 48, May 24: Cubs 3 at Astros 2 (27-21)

Mike Remlinger pitched in 73 games for the Cubs in 2003 after coming to the team as a free agent. He threw a total of 69 innings. He had the second highest K/9 of his career at 10.83. He did also have a BB/9 of 5.09. But that worked out well enough for a 3.65 ERA (4.48 FIP). His enemy that season was the long ball at 1.43 HR/9. Pitching in Wrigley and allowing a lot of walks and a lot of homers is not a great recipe for success. And yet, he was a very effective pitcher.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Mike Remlinger (.399). Mike entered the game with no outs and runners on second and third with the score 3-2. He got a grounder to first and a strikeout before intentionally walking Craig Biggio, then got out of the inning with a strikeout to preserve the narrow lead.
  • Hero: Joe Borowski (.212). It seems like none of Joe’s saves were following a perfect inning, this was no exception. He worked around a walk to record this one.
  • Sidekick: Antonio Alfonseca (.147). He allowed only one hit in pitching a scoreless eighth.
  • Billy Goat: Troy O’Leary (-.165). Troy was hitless in four at bats.
  • Goat: Shawn Estes (-.148). Shawn threw six scoreless innings. Unfortunately, he went back out for the seventh. He was charged with two runs on seven hits. He walked one and struck out three.
  • Kid: Damian Miller (-.090). Miller was hitless in three at bats.

Game 49, May 25: Cubs 7 at Astros 3 (28-21)

Carlos Zambrano’s first full season in the majors was 2003. He recorded a 13-11 record in 32 starts. He threw 214 innings. He struck out 7.07/9 and walked 3.95/9. His strong point? He allowed just .38 HR/9. This was aided by a 55.4% ground ball rate. He had a 3.11 ERA (3.47 WHIP) and was credited with 4.7 fWAR. This was the first of three straight seasons in which he eclipsed 4 fWAR.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Moises Alou (.242). Moises had three hits, a walk and drove in three runs. He scored once.
  • Hero: Carlos Zambrano (.184). Carlos threw 6⅓ innings, allowing five hits, five walks and three runs. He struck out five.
  • Sidekick: Lenny Harris (.092). Harris made the most of a start with a hit, a walk and two runs drive in.
  • Billy Goat: Corey Patterson (-.095). Corey had two hits in five at bats. He scored a run and struck out once. Corey singled and was caught stealing his first time up and then retired the next two to dig a WPA hole he would not escape from.
  • Goat: Alex Gonzalez (-.026). Alex had one hit and drove in two runs in four at bats. Alex had a similar story. He was retired his first two times up. His third was an RBI single, but Alou was thrown out trying to go first to third, limiting the positive WPA. An RBI ground out didn’t add a lot of value as that made it 7-1.
  • Kid: Paul Bako (-.012). Paul had a hit and a walk in his four plate appearances.

The Cubs took three of the final five games of the trip to take eight of 13 overall. A win the day before the road trip put them in first place by 1½ games. The eight win road trip increased that lead to 2½. All in all, a very successful trip. The season passed the one-quarter mark and the Cubs were still looking strong.

After the previous homestand saw the Cubs manage only a split, they’d be looking to improve upon that facing a 12-game homestand. The first six of those games would be rematches with the Pirates and Astros who they just went a combined 3-2 against. We’ll focus on those six games in part 9 of this series. The following part will concern the open of inter-league play with six against the Rays and the Yankees. The Cubs will be looking to add to their lead with 12 straight at home. More than one-third of the season will have been played by the end of that homestand.

Until next time, thanks for reading!