The Cubs and Cardinals are preparing to play a five-game series at Wrigley Field this weekend. It will go a long way toward telling us whether the Cardinals can get back into postseason contention under a new manager, or perhaps whether the Cubs can begin to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the division.
A similar five-game set was played between these two clubs at Wrigley in September 2003, and it contained enough drama for an entire season.
When this 2003 series began, the Cardinals were in first place in the N.L. Central. They had, just a few days earlier, taken two of three from the Cubs in St. Louis. The Astros were second, a game behind, and the Cubs were third, 2½ games back.
September 1: Cubs 7, Cardinals 0
Mark Prior, in the middle of a season in which he’d finish third in Cy Young voting, threw eight shutout innings, striking out eight. He threw 131 pitches, and in time these high pitch counts (in the days when pitch counts still weren’t being watched that closely) would come back to haunt him and the team.
Tony Womack (yes, he was a Cub, briefly!) had three hits in this game and Eric Karros hit a two-run homer highlighting a six-run fifth inning. The Cubs moved to within 1½ games of first place; the Cardinals and Astros were now tied.
September 2, first game: Cubs 4, Cardinals 2, 15 innings
One thing you have to remember about this split doubleheader is that while such things are commonplace now, the Cubs weren’t permitted to play day/night doubleheaders at Wrigley until the revision of the night-game ordinance in 2002. Thus this was just the second such doubleheader at Wrigley (the first was August 31, 2002 vs. the Brewers). It was made necessary by what I had termed the “Typhoon Game,” played in a driving rainstorm on Mother’s Day, called off after four innings with the Cardinals leading 11-9 on a day when conditions weren’t suitable for baseball and they never should have played at all.
Game 1 on this September day was scheduled for 1:05 and Game 2 for 7:05 and that shouldn’t have been a problem, except...
The Cubs had numerous chances to win this game before it got that long. With two out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, pinch-hitter Ramon Martinez hit a ball that probably should have won the game. Cardinals left fielder Orlando Palmeiro made a fantastic catch up against the ivy and the game went to extras.
In the 12th, Augie Ojeda (!) led off with another deep fly ball that nearly was a walkoff homer, again caught against the ivy by Palmeiro.
The Cardinals had the potential lead run on third base with one out in the 14th, but could not score.
Ojeda singled to lead off the 15th, and one out later:
That was Sosa’s 32nd home run of the 2003 season, and for the moment, knocked the Cardinals out of first place and put the Cubs half a game behind them and one game behind the Astros.
The problem was, it was now 5:52 p.m. and the second game was supposed to start at 7:05 and a full house had to be cleared from the park. The Cubs quickly announced that Game 2 would start at 8:05 and fans started filing out and getting ready for the nightcap.
September 2, second game: Cardinals 2, Cubs 0
Kerry Wood started this game for the Cubs and served up a home-run ball to Jim Edmonds in the second, but then settled down. As now, the Cubs wound up with a fair number of baserunners but could not score; they left RISP in the first, second, third and sixth innings. The Cardinals scraped another run off Wood in the seventh.
With two out in the bottom of the seventh, Aramis Ramirez, who had not started Game 2, batted for Wood and walked. Kenny Lofton singled and Mark Grudzielanek was hit by a pitch, loading the bases.
Moises Alou was next. He popped a little fly ball down the left-field line, right near where the Cubs bullpen used to be. Third-base umpire Eric Cooper called it foul. It was pretty clearly fair — under current review rules, that play could have been appealed and probably reversed. If fair, it would at least have tied the game.
Reliever Antonio Alfonseca went ballistic. Here’s what the Tribune’s Paul Sullivan wrote at the time:
Alfonseca burst out of the bullpen after being ejected and bumped third-base umpire Justin Klemm on a dead run in the outfield in front of 39,290 potential eyewitnesses.
Alfonseca could be lucky--video of the incident is proving difficult to locate because it occurred during a commercial break on the Fox Sports Net telecast. [Crew chief Mike] Reilly said Alfonseca knocked Klemm backward a good 10 to 12 feet, a charge many eyewitnesses would dispute.
[Manager Dusty] Baker said Alfonseca is the victim, not the offender. He said Alfonseca was talking to bullpen coach Juan “Porky” Lopez after Klemm made the controversial foul call on Moises Alou’s liner in the seventh inning, and that Klemm had no business throwing him out and precipitating the bump.
”Alfonseca was surprised that he was thrown out of the game,” Baker said. “He was speaking Spanish to Porky and the guy kicked him out. Maybe [Klemm] speaks Spanish or something, I doubt it. How can you kick a guy out for speaking Spanish if you don’t understand it?”
Alfonseca was eventually suspended for seven games for bumping Klemm. He was having such a bad season that some fans joked at the time that the Cubs would appeal and ask for that to be increased to 14 games.
Alou eventually flied out to left and the Cubs got shut out, remaining third, 1½ games behind the Cardinals.
Klemm, incidentally, left on-field umpiring after 2003 to join MiLB’s Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation as a field evaluator and instructor. In 2014 he was hired by MLB as Director of Replay, a position he still holds.
September 3: Cubs 8, Cardinals 7
And if you think the second-game histrionics were crazy, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
In the bottom of the third inning of this game, with the Cardinals leading 2-0, Cardinals starter Dan Haren (then a rookie making just his 12th big-league start) hit Cubs starter Matt Clement. Clement had hit Haren an inning earlier.
That got Baker and La Russa into a shouting match:
The Cubs eventually put lefthander Felix Sanchez in the game, in the sixth inning with two runners on and two out — to make his major-league debut. Sanchez was considered something of a pitching prospect at the time, but really? His MLB debut in a tense situation in a game like this?
Sanchez walked the first hitter he faced to load the bases, and then J.D. Drew cleared them with a grand slam. It’s 6-0 Cardinals now and things were looking pretty bleak for the Cubs. Incidentally, Sanchez pitched in only two more MLB games, was sent to the Tigers in a minor-league deal the following year and was out of baseball after 2005.
After the first two batters reached in the seventh off Haren, La Russa called on former Cub Jeff Fassero, who retired Randall Simon. But Aramis Ramirez hit a three-run homer to make it 6-3. The Cardinals scored one off Antonio Alfonseca in the seventh, but Moises Alou smacked a two-run homer in the seventh to make it 7-5, and Alex Gonzalez also homered in that inning, a solo shot bringing the Cubs within one.
In the eighth, Tony Womack singled and was sacrificed to second. Mark Grudzielanek tripled to deep right field to tie the game and scored one out later on a single by Alou to complete the comeback. Joe Borowski retired the Cardinals 1-2-3 in the ninth to nail down this win, but the Cubs remained third, a game behind the Astros, now in first place. They trailed the Cardinals by just half a game.
September 4: Cubs 7, Cardinals 6
Once again, the Cubs spotted the Cardinals an early 2-0 lead in the first inning off Shawn Estes. But they came back with a three-run third, and that held until the Cardinals put three of their own across in the fifth off Estes. In that third inning, though, Sammy Sosa was ejected after being called out on strikes on a check swing (pictured at the top of this post).
Three doubles helped the Cubs to a three-run fifth of their own to go ahead 6-5. The Cardinals tied it in the top of the seventh with an RBI single by — ready for this? — Mike Matheny.
Moises Alou drew a one-out walk in the bottom of the inning and Aramis Ramirez was hit by a pitch — the fifth HBP of the series, and there would be one more, by Joe Borowski in the ninth. That turned out to be a fatal mistake by the Cardinals, because Tony Womack singled off Cardinals reliever Mike DeJean for the lead, and eventual winning, run. Borowski finished up for his 24th save, the Cubs had their fourth win in the five-game series, and they moved half a game ahead of the Cardinals, into second place, half a game behind the Astros.
Will this weekend be as exciting? Maybe not, but the Cubs can still make a statement in the 2018 pennant race by matching what their 2003 counterparts did.