The first six games of the trip for the Cubs were probably a little underwhelming. 3-3 on the road can never be viewed as a total failure, but neither the Orioles nor the Blue Jays were any good in 2003 and so what had been a pretty decent road team was probably hopeful of winning at least four of those games. Alas, that’s not the way the ball bounced. After winning the first two in Baltimore, a couple of clunkers followed, then a win. But then, the Blue Jays walked off with a close win in the final game there.
So it was on to Cincinnati to face a Reds team that was still very much alive in the National League Central race on June 16. The bottom would eventually drop out for them, but on June 13, they had actually reached their high water mark for the (entire) season at two games over .500, and on that day they were a mere 2½ games out of first. That was their first season in Great American Ball Park. It appears that injuries were their undoing. That was a Ken Griffey Jr. season and he had just 201 plate appearances. Sean Casey was the only Red to appear in even 120 games, though he did appear in 147. 19 different players had at least 100 plate appearances and two more topped 90, so it was very much a season in flux.
Could the Cubs start that decline for the Reds? Or did they hold strong a bit longer? The Cubs started Shawn Estes in the series finale in Toronto, so they had their top four pitchers available for this four game set. Let’s see how they did.
Game 68, June 16: Cubs 4 at Reds 3 (38-30)
Antonio Alfonseca was in his age 31 season for the Cubs in 2003. He’d come over to the Cubs in 2002 after spending three years as the closer for the Marlins. He spent part of one season as the Cubs’ closer, but in 2003 he moved full time into a set-up role. Antonio had his two best strike out rates as a major leaguer in his two seasons with the Cubs (7.39 per nine in ‘02 and 6.92 in ‘03). But unlike most of the best closers, he wasn’t particularly a strike out pitcher. In 2003, he struggled for the Cubs. A 3-1 record doesn’t give anything away, but he had a 5.83 ERA, though a 4.18 FIP suggests he was victimized by some bad luck. Surely, the 17.1% HR/FB did him no favors. That was the second highest number he recorded in the majors, with the other being a 16-inning stint with the Rangers towards the end of his career in 2006.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Joe Borowski (.210). Joe worked around a hit and a walk to notch the save.
- Hero: Antonio Alfonseca (.146). Alfonseca worked a scoreless eighth inning, sandwiching two ground outs around a strikeout to retire all three batters he faced.
- Sidekick: Moises Alou (.131). Alou had a solo homer and a walk in four plate appearances. The homer tied the game at 3-3 in the sixth and was followed by an Eric Karros homer that was the decisive and final run of the game.
- Billy Goat: Corey Patterson (-.095). Corey was hitless in four at bats, though he did drive in a run in the third with a fielder’s choice grounder.
- Goat: Troy O’Leary (-.039). Troy had a hit and scored a run in four at bats.
- Kid: Bobby Hill (-.037). Bobby got his first at bat of 2003 as a pinch hitter and struck out. He did appear in 59 games a Cub the year before, so this wasn’t his MLB debut.
Game 69, June 17: Cubs 1 at Reds 2 (38-31)
June of 2003 was a productive month for Tom Goodwin. He was not used a ton, but he did get a little extra playing time thanks to interleague play and the DH being in play. The extra time worked out for Tom as he logged a .359/.390/.410 (wRC+ 114) line over 41 plate appearances. He had two doubles among his 14 hits, drove in four and scored four. He stole five bases but was caught three times. Of course his numbers were buoyed by a .400 BABIP.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Carlos Zambrano (.417). Carlos was superb in this one. He threw eight innings and allowed only four hits and one run. He did walk four while striking out seven.
- Hero: Alex Gonzalez (.087). Unfortunately, the Cubs offense was held to only one run. Gonzalez had a hit and a walk in his four plate appearances.
- Sidekick: Mike Remlinger (.084). Mike threw a perfect ninth inning to preserve a 1-1 tie. But then he went back out for the 10th. He walked the first batter he faced. Hall of Famer Barry Larkin then sacrificed the runner to second.
- Billy Goat: Tom Goodwin (-.369). Goodwin may have had a good month, but he didn’t have a good day in this one. He was hitless in five at bats. He had at bats with runners on first and second twice and a runner on second twice. His most productive out was a fly out that advanced a runner from second to third. He also hit into an inning ending double play in the ninth.
- Goat: Todd Wellemeyer (-.297). After the Larkin sacrifice, Todd was brought in. He got the first batter to line out, but then Sean Casey hit a walk-off single.
- Kid: Eric Karros (-.230). Karros was also hitless in five at bats. He batted with a total of five runners on base. He advanced none of them, three times making the last out of an inning.
Game 70, June 18: Cubs 4 at Reds 1 (39-31)
Mark Grudzielanek remained a steady presence in the Cubs lineup in June. He had 101 plate appearances and produced a line of .300/.364/.400 (wRC+ 104). He had six doubles and a homer among his 27 hits. He scored 13 runs while only driving in three. He stole a base. His line was also aided by a high BABIP of .351.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Kerry Wood (.416). For the second straight day, the Cubs got dominant starting pitching. Wood went the distance allowing three hits and one run, that was a solo homer. He struck out nine and didn’t walk anyone. He faced only 29 hitters. Fangraphs lists Kerry with only five game scores higher than the 88 he recorded in this one (he also had two other 88’s).
- Hero: Mark Grudzielanek (.171). Mark had three hits in this one, two of them were doubles. He drove in the game’s first run and later scored in the fifth.
- Sidekick: Sammy Sosa (.166). Sammy had two hits including a two-run homer in the fifth.
- Billy Goat: Paul Bako (-.140). Paul had one walk in four plate appearances.
- Goat: Eric Karros (-.062). Karros actually had a hit and a run in this one in four plate appearances.
- Kid: Tom Goodwin (-.040). Two hits and a run scored weren’t enough to keep him from this spot.
Game 71, June 19: Cubs 1 at Reds 3 (39-32)
Lenny Harris had a brutal June that year. He had 41 plate appearances, largely off of the bench. Though like all of the reserves he did get a couple of starts during interleague play and a few other sporadic appearances. His line was .108/.171/.108 (wRC+ -37). Yikes, that’s well into pitcher’s hitting territory. He had no extra base hits. He did drive in two runs and score three. He struck out in 22% of his plate appearances.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Moises Alou (.259). Alou had two hits and drove in the Cubs only run. He was also hit by a pitch.
- Hero: Mark Prior (.063). Cubs starting pitching was dominant for a third straight day. Mark only lasted six innings, allowing seven hits, one walk and one run while striking out five.
- Sidekick: Sammy Sosa (.035). Sammy also had a two hit day. Unfortunately, the Cubs only had five hits total and only four Cubs even reached base.
- Billy Goat: Troy O’Leary (-.148). He struck out swinging as a pinch hitter to end the game with the bases loaded.
- Goat: Lenny Harris (-.135). One batter earlier, Harris met the same fate.
- Kid: Ramon Martinez (-.114). Martinez batted seventh in this one and played third. He was hitless in three at bats and he made an error to top it off (no effect on his WPA).
So, despite three strong starts from the rotation, the Cubs could only split the four games in Cincy. They came to town with a one game lead in the division. It actually increased to 1½ games after the Monday win to start the series, then dropped to 1⁄2 after the subsequent loss. It then bounced back up to 1½ before landing right back at an even one by the end of the trip.
In total, the Cubs were 5-5 on the 10-game trip. Again, you can’t be disappointed when you go .500 on the road, but again I’ll suspect they felt they could get at least six and maybe seven wins on a trip that featured no top level opposition. They had been a game out of first when they left, so while treading water, moving back out front by a game was a pleasant result.
No rest for the weary. The Cubs played 10 games in 10 days on this trip, spanning three cities and two countries. They’d return home for six with just one off day in the middle of it. And to top it off, the White Sox would be the opposition to start the brief homestand. The White Sox who always took particular delight in being a thorn in the Cubs side in interleague play. The Sox had a good season in 2003, but at that time they were in third place with a 33-39 record. They’d play .603 ball in the second half though and win 86 games (just two fewer than the Cubs). The Cubs would also see the Brewers on the six game homestand.
Tune in next time to see the start of the annual Cubs/Sox cross-town. We’ll see if the Cubs could stay on top as they faced two teams that were not exactly lighting things up.
Until next time, thanks for reading, thanks for commenting!