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Cubs Historical Heroes and Goats: 2003, part 19

The Cubs finish July and begin August with six at home.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When last we checked in our 2003 Cubs, the Cubs had lost three of five in an odd stretch that saw them come home from a six game trip, play two at home and then go on the road for three. They actually won two of the three road games from the first place Astros, so all was not lost to say the least. Still, the Cubs found themselves with 58 games to play, a 52-52 record, 4½ games out of first and in third place.

Still, with the addition of Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez, the lineup was improved and the rotation had already been good. Could the team get it going? This time around we cover six games at home. The final six games in a stretch of 16 consecutive games coming out of the All-Star break. Two NL West foes would come in with the first place Giants and the third place Diamondbacks. Let’s get right to the games and see how the Cubs did.

Game 105, July 29: Cubs 3, Giants 0 (53-52)

This win, their second straight, put the Cubs back above .500. They would not go under .500 and this Cubs team was never more than one game below .500 at any point in the season. It should come as no surprise that strong pitching lead the way back onto the plus side of the ledger. This one was a Matt Clement gem, one of the finest games he pitched in his career. He allowed only two hits, two walks and struck out eight. He completed just six games out of 236 career starts. The two hits tied a career low, set the year before for the Cubs in an outing against the Pirates. In fact, Matt only allowed less hits in a game he pitched at least seven innings once, when he allowed one hit over seven innings. That start happened earlier in July against the Phillies.

Things went sideways for the Cubs in late June and into July. But not so much for Matt Clement. In six July starts, he was 3-2 with a 2.28 ERA (4.23 FIP). He stuck out 35 batters in 43⅓ innings of work while allowing only 22 hits. All six starts met at least the minimum qualification for a quality start as he threw six or more innings in every start and didn’t allow more than three runs in any of them. In a stretch where Mark Prior was injured, Clement stepped up.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Matt Clement (.405).
  • Hero: Moises Alou (.165). The Cubs themselves only managed five hits and a walk in this one. One of those hits was a three-run homer in the first inning by Alou. It was Alou’s only time on base in three at bats.
  • Sidekick: Sammy Sosa (.028). Sammy singled in the first and was along for the ride on Alou’s homer. Sammy also only reached once in three at bats.
  • Billy Goat: Kenny Lofton (-.031). Lofton did have a single in four at bats, but that hit wasn’t until the fifth inning so it didn’t take him out of negative territory after making the first out of the game for the Cubs (-.022). He also struck out once.
  • Goat: Alex Gonzalez (-.028). Alex was hitless in three at bats. He struck out once.
  • Kid: Damian Miller/Eric Karros (-.021). The pair had matching hitless in three at bat days. Karros struck out once.

Game 106, July 30: Cubs 3, Giants 6 (53-53)

Back to .500. Kerry Wood allowed four runs in a rough second inning to put the Cubs behind 4-0. He did throw six innings and only allowed the four. Kenny Lofton hit his first Cubs home run, but it wasn’t enough.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Paul Bako (.071). Paul wasn’t much with the bat. This was one of only two appearances on the year in the Superhero spot. He gets there via two walks in three plate appearances. He scored a run.
  • Hero: Kenny Lofton (.047). Lofton hit a two-run homer off of Giants starter Jason Schmidt. Jason would go on to finish second in the Cy Young ballot behind Eric Gagne with Mark Prior finishing third. 55 saves trumped the two best starters in the NL that season.
  • Sidekick: Kyle Farnsworth (.036). After Lofton’s homer cut it to 4-2, Kyle threw a scoreless seventh, walking one. He only faced three batters though due to a caught stealing.
  • Billy Goat: Kerry Wood (-.194). Kerry only allowed three hits on the day. Unfortunately he allowed four walks. Two of those walks were along for the ride on a second inning grand slam by Edgardo Alfonzo.
  • Goat: Aramis Ramirez (-.093). Ramirez had a sac fly in the ninth inning to cut it to 6-4. But even with the RBI, the out made it a negative event (-.033). He also struck out twice.
  • Kid: Sammy Sosa (-.075). Sammy was hitless in four at bats.

Game 107, July 31: Cubs 9, Giants 4 (54-53)

This time is was the Cubs plating four in the first to jump out to a 4-0 lead that they would never give up. The Cubs pounded out 11 hits and drew three walks. Carlos Zambrano threw eight innings despite allowing four runs in another of those lines that I wouldn’t expect to see anymore.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Carlos Zambrano (.153). The Cube built a 5-0 lead before Carlos allowed a two-run homer to Alfonzo. The Giants plated two more in the eighth against Zambrano. All together, he threw eight innings, allowed nine hits, five walks and four runs. He struck out five.
  • Hero: Sammy Sosa (.148). Sammy had two hits, including an RBI double in the first and a three-run homer in the sixth. He scored twice, and drove in four in four at bats.
  • Sidekick: Damian Miller (.084). Miller had two singles and an RBI in four at bats. He struck out once.
  • Billy Goat: Aramis Ramirez (-.053). He was hitless in four at bats, though he did score a run and he struck out once.
  • Goat: Eric Karros (-.005). Just about everything went right for the Cubs in this one and so a sac fly in four at bats was enough to land Eric here. He also struck out once.
  • Kid: Doug Glanville (.000). Doug makes the cameo appearance and lands here for one at bat late in the game. He appeared in 28 games for the Cubs in 2003, his second tour of duty with the team.

Game 108, August 1: Cubs 4, Diamondbacks 3 (55-53)

Four wins in five games for the Cubs was a welcome change. This one took 14 innings to get there. What started as a duel between Curt Schilling and Juan Cruz ended up a duel between two bullpens. Both starters were gone after six and so the remainder of the time was divided up between relievers. But this was a 1-1 game through 10 innings. Five runs scored in extra innings will make for some interesting WPA...

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Troy O’Leary (.510). Troy had a two-run, pinch-hit double, with two outs in the bottom of the 11th. That was good for the eighth largest WPA game of the season for the Cubs. Only one of the seven above it was by a hitter.
  • Hero: Antonio Alfonseca (.420). Antonio threw 613 innings in his MLB career, but he never started a game. Accordingly, this ties for the longest outing of his career at three innings. He allowed three hits, one walk and struck out two while working scoreless 12th, 13th and 14th innings to notch the win.
  • Sidekick: Aramis Ramirez (.254). Ramirez had three hits including a double, a run and an RBI in seven at bats.
  • Billy Goat: Eric Karros (-.327). Eric had a hit and a walk, he scored a run and struck out twice. He lands here because he grounded into a double play with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the 12th.
  • Goat: Joe Borowski (-.302). Joe allowed two runs in the top of the 11th innings. He allowed three singles, a stolen base and a sacrifice bunt in the inning.
  • Kid: Mark Grudzielanek (-.174). Grudzy had one his in six at bats. He struck out three times.

Game 109, August 2: Cubs 3, Diamondbacks 4 (55-54)

Same score as the day before but the teams reversed. This game was a mixed bag for Shawn Estes. He allowed only two runs in seven innings of work. But they were both solo homers. The Cubs actually took a 3-2 lead to the ninth but Joe Borowski blew the save and took the loss. The Cubs scored an odd run to tie this game at 2-2 in the fifth. With runners on first and third and one out, Sammy Sosa lofted a fly to right. Shawn Estes, who had doubled earlier in the inning, scored but Mark Grudzielanek was out trying to move up to second for the final out of the inning. Grudzielanek fractured a bone in his hand in this one and missed time as a result.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Ramon Martinez (.299). Martinez entered the game late and had two hits in two at bats and drove in one run. Ramon got quite a bit of playing time in August due to a Mark Grudzielanek injury suffered in this game. He made the most of it. Starting with this game, Martinez had an eight game hitting streak that included four multi hit games. For the month he had 92 plate appearances and a line of .329/.352/.378 (wRC+ 89). Strong performance, buoyed by a .403 BABIP.
  • Hero: Shawn Estes (.174). Seven innings, four hits, two walks, two runs and eight strike outs. One of his stronger outings of the year. But those two homers...
  • Sidekick: Mike Remlinger (.122). Mike threw a perfect eighth inning with the Cubs leading 3-2. He struck out one.
  • Billy Goat: Joe Borowski (-.685). This was the third largest negative WPA outing of the season for the Cubs (Joe also had the highest on June 26). He recorded just one out and allowed three hits including a game-tying home run to Alex Cintron.
  • Goat: Sammy Sosa (-.167). Sammy had a walk and a sacrifice fly in five plate appearances. He was credited with an RBI as the run scored before the out at second.
  • Kid: Alex Gonzalez (-.099). Gonzalez was hitless in four at bats and struck out once.

Game 110, August 3: Cubs 2, Diamondbacks 1 (56-54)

Three one run games in three days for these two teams. For the second time, the Cubs ended up on the positive side of things. Matt Clement continued his strong run with one run over eight innings and Sammy Sosa slugged a two-run homer in the seventh for the Cubs win. Dave Veres pitched the ninth for his first save.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Matt Clement (.372). Eight innings, three hits, two walks, one run on a solo homer to Luis Gonzalez. He struck out seven.
  • Hero: Sammy Sosa (.345). Two hits in four at bats, but he lands here because of what turned out to be a game winning two-run homer with one out in the seventh.
  • Sidekick: Dave Veres (.091). It wasn’t pretty, with a single and a walk, but he notched the save after recording the final two outs.
  • Billy Goat: Alex Gonzalez (-.124). Alex struck out three times in four at bats.
  • Goat: Aramis Ramirez (-.120). Ramirez was also hitless in his four at bats.
  • Kid: Kenny Lofton (-.022). One walk and an important run scored. He struck out once. He was the second of back-to-back strikeouts starting with one out in the second after runners had reached first and third.

The Cubs take four of six in a difficult home stretch and move back to two games over the .500 mark. By any measure, a very successful stretch of games. Even at that, a blown save let one get away. Still, two of three from the Giants, who were one of the best teams in the league, was a great result. That is particularly true given that the loss was to Jason Schmidt who was probably the best starter in the National League in 2003.

The Cubs shaved one game off of their deficit in the division and sat 3½ games out of first. They remained in third place. Following this series, the Cubs had their first off day after 16 straight games coming out of the All-Star break. And, their top starter Mark Prior would be returning to the mound.

The upcoming trip would see them visit the Padres and Dodgers for three each. The Dodgers were muddling along near .500 and in third place in the National League West. The Padres were already more than 25 games under .500 and were already starting to look ahead to better days at 27 games out of first.

With the Phillies, Marlins and Braves all more than 10 games over .500 in the East, it was looking like the Cubs would have to win the division if they were going to reach the playoffs. Just the same, the Dodgers despite having a very similar record to the Cubs were looking like an extreme long shot to get into any kind of contention.

Next time we’ll cover those upcoming six games. With just 52 games left, the National League Central had three teams within four games of first and it was looking increasingly like a division that would go down to the wire. We’ll see how the Cubs held up in August.

Until then, thanks for reading and thanks for commenting.