clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Cubs Historical Heroes and Goats, part 22

New, 11 comments

A crucial August nine game road trip

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Despite dropping two of three to the Dodgers to finish the last homestand, the Cubs managed four wins in seven games. That pushed their recent string of success to 14 wins in 22 games. That had them back knocking on the door to first place.

This next challenge would be a big one though. A three-city, nine-game trip. All three stops against teams with winning records. Two of those teams fighting you (and each other) for one playoff spot. It would be a huge ask to win five or more on the nine game trip. But even just a half game out of first place, and with no juggernaut in division, you still had to think four wins was pretty much the floor.

The team absolutely had to keep itself within striking distance of first place. After this trip, the Cubs would have 30 games remaining and 17 of them would be at home. With three teams bunched up this late in the season, the finish figured to be chaotic. Let’s get right to the action.

Game 124, August 19: Cubs 8 at Astros 12 (64-60)

And the trip starts with a thud. Matt Clement was rocked for eight runs in four innings of work. That after be staked to a 3-0 lead after the top of the first. Unfortunately, that poor performance, wasted an 11 hit attack from the Cubs offense that included three home runs. Jeff Kent was the main culprit in this one. He had three hits including a homer and six RBI on the day. in 236 career starts, Matt only had three in which he allowed more runs than he did in this start.

Aramis Ramirez was signed as an international free agent by the Pirates in 1994. He reached the majors in 1998. In parts of seven seasons with the Pirates, Ramirez was a fairly ordinary player (.261/.311/.433). After coming to the Cubs, all of that changed. In nine seasons as a Cub, Ramirez had a line of (.294/.356/.531). He slugged 239 home runs in a Cub uniform and drove in 806 runs. In his 18 year career, he had 2,194 games played, 8,986 plate appearances, 386 homers, and 1,417 RBI. He played in three All-Star games and received MVP votes in five different seasons. He won a Silver Slugger award. Ramirez remains one of the best Cubs third basemen ever.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Aramis Ramirez (.272). Another fine Ramirez game goes to waste. This time he had two hits and a walk. One of those three hits was a three-run homer with two outs in the first.
  • Hero: Moises Alou (.167). Moises had a homer, a walk, scored twice and drove in two runs.
  • Sidekick: Ramon Martinez (.065). Martinez had two hits and a walk.
  • Billy Goat: Matt Clement (-.611). This was the fourth worst WPA score of the year for the Cubs. He allowed eight hits, four walks and eight earned runs in four innings of work. He struck out three.
  • Goat: Damian Miller (-.132). Miller had just one walk in four plate appearances. He also struck out once.
  • Kid: Sammy Sosa (-.109). Sammy was hitless in five at bats.

Game 125, August 20: Cubs 6 at Astros 0 (65-60)

Mark Prior continued to dazzle with seven shutout innings. Former Pirate teammates Aramis Ramirez and Randall Simon each homered and combined to drive in five runs to lead the Cubs offense. Randall had come to the Cubs in a trade on August 17. The Pirates got Ray Sadler in return, a Double-A outfielder. Randall was perhaps best known for hitting one of the Brewers’ racing sausages with a bat, leading to a three-game suspension.

This game also featured the Cubs debut of Tony Womack. The 2003 Cubs had Mark Grudzielanek get injured and then backup Ramon Martinez got banged up as well. Ramon had been getting regular playing time at third before the Ramirez trade, then at second after the Grudzielanek injury. But after starting regularly for more than a month, he made just one start between July 19 and August 3. Additionally, the Cubs traded Jose Hernandez, Bobby Hill, and released Lenny Harris.

So, the Cubs traded for Womack. Tony had a 13 year big league career. In that time, he played in 1,303 games and had 5,389 plate appearances. He had a career line of .273/.317/.356. He stole 363 bases and scored 739 runs. He reached the major leagues in 1993 at the age of 23 for the Pirates. He played parts of five seasons with them before going to the Diamondbacks for parts of five more. In 2003, he was traded to the Rockies in July and then just over a month later to the Cubs. This was the first of two later career stints with the Cubs. Between the two seasons, he played in just 40 games, had 109 plate appearances and a line of .257/.292/.337.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Mark Prior (.321). Mark was nothing short of a Superhero in August and September of 2003. He allowed only four hits and one walk in this one. He struck out nine.
  • Hero: Aramis Ramirez (.207). The home run in this one made four in four games for Ramirez. Finally, one of them helped lead the Cubs to victory. He also drew a walk and scored twice. He drove in two with his fourth inning homer.
  • Sidekick: Randall Simon (.070). Randall started at first and had two hits, including a three-run homer in the sixth, in four at bats.
  • Billy Goat: Kenny Lofton (-.128). The other former Pirate was quiet with no hits in four at bats.
  • Goat: Alex Gonzalez (-.035). Four strikeouts in four at bats. Oof.
  • Kid: Moises Alou (-.029). Alou had one walk in three plate appearances. He scored a run. He also struck out once.

Game 126, August 21: Cubs 3 at Astros 9 (65-61)

The Cubs lost for the fourth time in five games after winning four straight. This series pushed them back into third place, 1½ games out of first. It was Kerry Wood’s turn to get knocked around in this one. He allowed five runs in just four innings of work and saw his season record fall to just 11-10. The Cubs managed just seven hits and three walks in this one.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Eric Karros (.090). Eric had a hit and a walk in four plate appearances. He scored once.
  • Hero: Aramis Ramirez (.039). He drew one walk in four plate appearances. That walk was a second inning walk and it put Cubs at first and second with no outs. They didn’t end up scoring.
  • Sidekick: Moises Alou (.039). He had two hits in four at bats. Included was a two-run double in the ninth inning that cut the deficit to 9-3.
  • Billy Goat: Kerry Wood (-.229). Wood allowed six hits, two walks, a homer and five runs. He struck out five in four innings of work.
  • Goat: Doug Glanville (-.100). He was hitless in three at bats. He did get an RBI on an unusual play. He had a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth. The Astros turned a double play on the play, but the run scored first.
  • Kid: Damian Miller (-.096). He had one walk in three plate appearances. He grounded into a bases loaded double play in that second inning.

Game 127, August 22: Cubs 4 at Diamondbacks 1 (66-61)

The Cubs traveled to Arizona and got a bounce back result in a place where they’ve struggled historically. Not surprisingly, a strong pitching performance was behind the result. Carlos Zambrano went the distance for the second time in 11 days. Indeed, August of 2003 was one of the best months of Carlos’ career. He made five starts and logged a 3-1 record for 38 innings of work. He allowed only 28 hits, 13 walks and six runs (five earned). He struck out 33 while walking 13. He posted a 1.18 ERA (2.74 FIP).

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Carlos Zambrano (.444). Carlos allowed three hits, two walks and one run. He struck out four.
  • Hero: Sammy Sosa (.223). The Cubs scored all three of their runs on three homers in this game. Two of them were by Sammy who had an all or nothing game off of DBacks starter Curt Schilling. He had two homers and two strikeouts in four at bats.
  • Sidekick: Aramis Ramirez (.022). Ramirez stayed hot with another homer. He also struck out twice.
  • Billy Goat: Tony Womack (-.064). Tony was hitless in four at bats. He had two strikeouts.
  • Goat: Randall Simon (-.040). Simon was also hitless in four at bats. He struck out once.
  • Kid: Ramon Martinez (-.030). Martinez was the third Cub who was hitless in three at bats. He struck out once.

Game 128, August 23: Cubs 2 at Diamondbacks 13 (66-62)

Shawn Estes allowed seven runs (six earned) in 4⅓ innings of work. Antonio Alfonseca followed and allowed six runs in just 1⅔ innings of work. The Cubs offense put up very little fight against former Cub Miguel Batista. The Diamondbacks lead this one 10-0 before the Cubs scored their two runs.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Tony Womack (.007). He lands the top spot after the hitting of starter Estes was dropped. Estes walked and sacrificed in his two plate appearances. Tony had one hit in three at bats to “lead” the Cubs offense.
  • Hero: Tom Goodwin (.004). Tom had one hit in two at bats.
  • Sidekick: Paul Bako (.003). Bako lands here for one walk in three plate appearances.
  • Billy Goat: Shawn Estes (-.193). Nine hits, two walks, seven runs, six earned. He did strikeout three.
  • Goat: Kenny Lofton (-.082). This one seems wrong for the second spot. He was hitless in three at bats.
  • Kid: Randall Simon (-.063). Randall actually had a hit and drew a walk in four plate appearances. He scored one of the Cubs two runs. Things got so lopsided in this one that Alfonseca avoids the podiums despite allowing more runs (six) than outs recorded (five).

Game 129, August 24: Cubs 5 at Diamondbacks 3 (67-62)

Matt Clement gave the Cubs a strong outing and opposing starter Brandon Webb lasted only three innings as the Cubs took two out of three. The offense was lead by Randall Simon. Randall came to the Cubs in a trade for a minor leaguer on August 17.

Randall made his major league debut for the Braves in 1997 and then played two seasons with the Tigers. He signed with the Pirates before the 2003 deal and then in yet another cost-cutting maneuver, they traded him to the Cubs. As a Cub, Randall got 110 plate appearances and had a line of .282/.318/.485 (wRC+ 104). For his career, he played in 537 games, had 1,717 plate appearances and a line of .283/.320/.422 (wRC+ 91). The power spike for the Cubs was never really duplicated in his career. Simon last played in the major leagues in 2006, but played in indy ball as late as 2010.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Randall Simon (.339). Randall had three hits in five at bats. He drove in two and scored one.
  • Hero: Matt Clement (.290). Matt threw seven innings and allowed five hits, three walks and two runs. He had nine strikeouts.
  • Sidekick: Aramis Ramirez (.078). Ramirez had three hits and a walk in five plate appearances.
  • Billy Goat: Sammy Sosa (-.123). Sammy was hitless in five at bats with one strikeout.
  • Goat: Damian Miller (-.070). Damian had one hit in five at bats. He drove in a run and scored another. He had two strikeouts.
  • Kid: Ramon Martinez (-.067). Martinez was hitless in four at bats and struck out twice.

Game 130, August 26: Cubs 7 at Cardinals 4 (68-62)

Following an off day, the road trip continued in St. Louis. The Cubs rode a six run third inning rally and seven strong innings from Mark Prior to a second straight win. The win improved Mark’s record to 13-5 on the year. This made three superhero and one hero appearances for Prior in four starts after coming off of the disabled list. As was slowly become a regular thing, the Cubs offense was lead by ex-Pirates. Randall Simon and Aramis Ramirez each homered and Kenny Lofton had two hits, a run and an RBI on the day.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Kenny Lofton (.174). Kenny had a one-out RBI double in the third and the flood gated opened afterwards.
  • Hero/Sidekick: Mark Prior/Randall Simon (.161). Mark threw eight innings and allowed just one run, that coming on a solo homer (by Albert Pujols) after it was already 7-0 Cubs. He allowed only three hits, one walk and struck out six. Simon had a two-out three-run homer in the third. That blast was followed by a back-to-back jack from Aramis Ramirez.
  • Billy Goat: Moises Alou (-.064). One of the Cubs who didn’t get in on the act, Alou was hitless in four at bats.
  • Goat: Kyle Farnsworth (-.017). Kyle faced four batters. He struck out the first, walked Pujols and then Jim Edmonds followed with a homer. Scott Rolen then reached on an error and that was it for Kyle. He was charged with three runs, two earned.
  • Kid: Alex Gonzalez (-.013). Alex had a hit and a strike out in four at bats.

Game 131, August 27: Cubs 2 at Cardinals 4 (68-63)

Kerry Wood was dominant in this one, throwing seven shutout innings. Unfortunately, three different Cubs relievers combined to allow four runs as the victory slipped away. The Cardinals scored all four of their runs in the eighth inning. An inning in which the Cubs used five different relievers.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Kerry Wood (.473). This one slips in as the 10th biggest WPA game of the year for the Cubs. Kerry threw seven innings and allowed four hits, four walks and struck out 11.
  • Hero: Sammy Sosa (.175). Sammy had two hits and drove in both Cubs runs, one wiht a single in the sixth and one with a double in the eighth. Both came with one out.
  • Sidekick: Kenny Lofton (.115). Kenny had two hits, including a double, as well and scored once.
  • Billy Goat: Kyle Farnsworth (-.511). A day after being on the hill while three runs scored, Kyle was used again. He came in with runners on first and third and no outs with the Cubs still leading 2-0. He walked Rolen. Allowed a single that plated two and then threw a wild pitch. He then issued a walk before Mike Matheny sacrificed the runners to second and third. That was it for Farnsworth.
  • Goat: Mark Guthrie (-.171). Mark faced one batter (Edmonds) and allowed a single.
  • Kid: Aramis Ramirez (-.131). Ramirez was hitless in four at bats and struck out twice.

Game 132, August 28: Cubs 2 at Cardinals 3 (68-64)

The Cubs scored single runs in the first and third innings. Unfortunately, they never scored again. They allowed single runs in the sixth and seventh innings and then the Cardinals walked it off in the ninth. This wasted another strong start from Carlos Zambrano and a solo homer by Sammy Sosa.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Carlos Zambrano (.094). Carlos allowed eight hits, three walks and two runs (one earned). He allowed a homer and struck out six. He also had a single in two at bats that contributed to the second run.
  • Hero: Kenny Lofton (.080). Lofton had a double in four at bats.
  • Sidekick: Doug Glanville (.049). Doug reached on an error in the eighth in a tie game.
  • Billy Goat: Ramon Martinez (-.294). Ramon has an odd looking line in the box score. He was hitless in three at bats and drove in a run. He lands here because he flew into a double play with runners on second and third and one out in the eighth. He had a sac fly in the third.
  • Goat: Mike Remlinger (-.258). Mike allowed a walk off homer to the first batter he faced in the ninth inning. His WPA wasn’t worse because he pitched a perfect eighth.
  • Kid: Alex Gonzalez (-.120). He was hitless in three at bats.

The Cubs drop the final two games of the road trip, the last one in heart-breaking fashion. The fly ball double play in the eighth inning would have been the go ahead run. Kenny Lofton had doubled one batter earlier with a still fast Doug Glanville on first. Unfortunately, the double was a ground rule double and so Doug wasn’t able to score. Remlinger allowed this homer to Kerry Robinson. This was the only homer Robinson hit that season. In fact, it was one of only three he hit in 795 major league plate appearances. And of course, he hit left handed. So this was quite an odd blast allowed by Remlinger.

That made two straight games where the Cubs allowed leads to get away late in the game. The Cubs were locked in a tight race for the National League Central crown. The two blown games were two of the three games in which the bullpen was handed late, close games. The wins on the trip saw the Cubs win 7-4 after taking a 7-1 lead into the ninth, two complete games and a 5-3 win that they successfully closed out.

So the Cubs took four of nine overall. What I would have dubbed the minimum tolerable record if the team was going to have any chance of winning. Sometimes slowing the bleeding is the best the doctor can do. Here, the Cubs started the trip in second place half a game out. They returned home in third place one and a half behind. Five times on the trip they were half a game out and they kept yo-yo-ing between second and third in the division.

Now, they’d come home for an eight-game homestand. But it was a very odd homestand. They would have three games with the Brewers, a team that was well off of the pace in the NL Central. That would be followed by five games in four days with the Cardinals. The September 2 doubleheader was a make up game from the Mother’s Day washout against the Cardinals.

The target? The Cubs would surely need to win at least five games and push for six if they were going to stay in the hunt. There were only 30 games left in the season and time was starting to get short. The advantage for those 30 games was 17 games at home. But this homestand would represent eight of them. So this is the time. Three games against an also ran and five games against one of the two teams they were chasing.

Next time, we’ll see if they can take care of business. On one of these groups of games, they were going to need to exceed the minimum. Would this one be the one? Five games against the Cardinals was a tall order. Tune in next time to find out how they did.

Until then, thanks for reading, thanks for commenting.