In our last look at the 2003 Cubs, we covered the historic series win by the Cubs over the Atlanta Braves. The Cubs won the series 3-2 and advanced to the National League Championship Series. The Cubs were not strangers to the NLCS, having played in it following the 1984 and 1989 seasons. However, there were no wild cards in those years and so this was actually the Cubs first postseason series win since the 1908 championship team.
In a way, you can break down the Cubs postseason results in sections. They played in three straight World Series from 1906 to 1908. They won back to back World Series in 1907 and 1908 (both against the Tigers). Then from 1910 to 1945, the Cubs reached the World Series seven more times, an average of once every five years. They of course lost all of them. Losing twice each to the Tigers, Yankees and (Philadelphia) A’s and once to the Red Sox. Between 1984 and 1998, the Cubs reached the playoffs three times and each time they failed to win a series. The first two were NLCS appearances and the last was a sweep in the division series in 1998.
Beginning in 2003, the Cubs have played in the post season seven times (including, of course, the last four seasons). Since 2003, the Cubs are 1-1 in Wild Card games, 4-2 in NL Division Series, 1-3 in NLCS, and 1-0 in the World Series. Put simply, the Cubs have advanced in seven out of 13 series starting in 2003. Not exactly a marauding juggernaut yet, but a formidable postseason opponent. A team more likely than not to advance, even against top competition.
After dispatching a 101-win Atlanta Braves team, the Cubs caught what appeared to be a break. The Florida Marlins also upset the 100-win San Francisco Giants. Because the Marlins were the wild card, the Cubs would have home field advantage in the NLCS and be facing a team that on paper wasn’t as formidable. Could the Cubs finally get back to the World Series? This was certainly a series there for the taking. In this instance, both in terms of what things looked like on paper and in what actually happened. Let’s turn now to the games.
Game 1, October 7: Cubs 8, Marlins 9 (0-1)
Due to the way that history played out, I barely remember this game or that the Marlins even had a 1-0 lead in the series. With only one day off between series, there was no option of juggling the rotation. Carlos Zambrano was next up and he got the start. He faced Josh Beckett for the Marlins. Beckett also started Game 1 of the NLDS for the Marlins against the Giants. The Marlins were able to win their series in four games and so they had their ace ready to go for this one.
Zambrano worked around a one-out double in the first to hold the Marlins scoreless and then the Cubs bats went to work. Kenny Lofton drew a lead off walk and Mark Grudzielanek followed with a triple. One out later Moises Alou hit a two-run homer to make it 3-0 Cubs. But that wasn’t the end of the scoring. Aramis Ramirez followed with a triple and one out later Alex Gonzalez doubled to make it 4-0.
The Marlins had a two-out triple in the second but neither team scored in the inning. But then another big inning broke out in the top of the third. The Marlins got a one-out triple from future Cub Juan Pierre. After a walk, Ivan Rodriguez hit a three-run homer. One out later, Miguel Cabrera and Juan Encarnacion went back to back to give the Marlins a 5-4 lead.
The teams would alternate scoreless innings with no runner getting past first until the sixth. Zambrano was still on the mound when Cabrera and Encarnacion had back to back singles. A Paul Bako passed ball moved the runners up a base. Then Jeff Conine lifted a sacrifice fly to make it 6-4. Carlos escaped the inning without any further damage and the game remained within striking distance.
In the bottom of the sixth, the first two Cubs were retired but then Randall Simon had a double and the Cubs were back in business. Alex Gonzalez hit a two-run game-tying homer.
Mike Remlinger and Kyle Farnsworth worked together on a scoreless seventh despite a Luis Castillo single and stolen base. The Cubs had a lead off double and sacrifice bunt off of Beckett in the seventh and that was the end of his day. The Cubs failed to score the runner from third with one out. The key out was Grudzielanek popping up for the second out.
Farnsworth threw a scoreless eighth, facing only three hitters and recording a strike out and two ground outs. In 1⅔ innings of work, Kyle faced five hitters, striking out three and two ground outs. The Cubs got an Alou lead off walk in the eighth and a two out single by Gonzalez, who had a huge game, but didn’t score.
That left Joe Borowski to throw the ninth inning in a tie game. He retired the first batter he faced. But then another future Cub in Todd Hollandsworth doubled. Pierre followed with a walk. A Mark Grudzielanek error on a ground ball loaded the bases for Ivan Rodriguez. Pudge followed with a two-run single to give the Marlins an 8-6 lead. Borowski retired the next two hitters and kept the Marlins from extending their lead.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, Lofton had a one-out double. One out later, Sammy Sosa took Marlins closer Ugueth Urbina deep to tie the game. Urbina had been an in season trade acquisition by the Marlins. He saved 32 games with a 2.81 ERA for the season. This was one of the biggest home runs of Sosa’s career. Alas, due to the way the game and the series played out, it is largely forgotten.
Borowski threw a perfect 10th, but Urbina matched it. Some irony that each team’s closer allowed two runs in the ninth but pitched a perfect 10th. Mark Guthrie got the call to start the 11th and he allowed a Mike Lowell homer. He did record an out following that. But the Cubs turned to Antonio Alfonseca. He allowed a single, a stolen base, an intentional walk and then an unintentional walk before getting a double play grounder to escape the inning.
Braden Looper, who had been the closer until Urbina was acquired, pitched a perfect 11th to record the save and give the Marlins the 1-0 lead in the series.
Three Heroes, Three Goats:
- Superhero: Sammy Sosa (.384). One hit in five at bats, but it was a two-out, two-run, game-tying homer. Clutch.
- Hero: Alex Gonzalez (.343). Three hits in five at bats. He also drove in three runs and hit a home run.
- Sidekick: Kyle Farnsworth (.200).
- Billy Goat: Mark Guthrie (-.318). Two batters faced, one game-winning homer.
- Goat: Carlos Zambrano (-.314). Six innings, nine hits, one walk, three home runs, five earned runs. Three strikeouts.
- Kid: Joe Borowski (-.266). Two innings, one earned run, two hits, one walk and one strikeout.
Game 2, October 8: Cubs 12, Marlins 3 (1-1)
The Cubs had their guy on the mound for this one. Mark Prior was the starter and he faced Brad Penny. Prior started out a little rough with a walk and a single allowed in the first, but he kept the Marlins off the board.
The Cubs got a one-out single from Grudzielanek, followed by a Sosa walk. One out later Ramirez walked and Randall Simon followed with a two-run single to put the Cubs up 2-0. The Marlins had a double and a single to start the inning, but were unable to dent the score board after Prior struck out the next two hitters and got a pop up to end the inning.
In the second, Bako lead off with a single, Prior followed with a sacrifice and then Lofton had an RBI-single to extend the Cubs lead. He stole second and then was along for the ride on a Sammy Sosa home run.
The Marlins added another single in the third, but didn’t score and it was 5-0 Cubs heading to the bottom of the third. Ramirez started the inning with a home run and then Simon followed with a single and that was it for Penny. But it wasn’t the end on his scoring line. One out later, Bako had an RBI-double to make it 7-0. Penny recorded only six outs and was charged with seven runs. Lofton added a two-out single to make it 8-0 after three.
The game would calm down for a short while, but Marlins reliever Rick Helling allowed a lead off double to Simon in the fifth. He advanced to third on a wild pitch and then Gonzalez hit a two-run homer. Alex Gonzalez would have been a folk hero in Chicago had this series ended differently. He had a monster start to his series.
The damage wasn’t done off of Helling. He allowed a walk, a sacrifice, a single, and then an RBI-double by Lofton to make it 11-0.
The Marlins got back to back homers from (another future Cub) Derrick Lee and Cabrera. But then Gonzalez hit another homer against Rick Helling who was in his third inning of work.
Mark Prior threw the seventh inning with a 12-2 lead and facing the 9-1-2 hitters in the Marlins lineup. In fact, after the Cubs were retired in the seventh, he went back out for the eighth. He walked the first batter he faced and then Simon made an error and that was the end of Prior’s night. This was probably the most questionable decision by Baker in the first two games of the series.
Dave Veres was summoned and he allowed a single to load the bases and then got a double play grounder. The run was charged to Prior but was unearned due to the error earlier in the inning. Veres walked the following hitter, but escaped the inning with the 12-3 lead. That would be the game’s final score and the series was tied at one game each.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Randall Simon (.165). Three hits, a run and two RBI in four at bats.
- Hero: Mark Prior (.138). Seven innings, eight hits, two walks, two earned runs, two home runs. Five strikeouts.
- Sidekick: Sammy Sosa (.127). One hit and two walks. His second homer in as many games. He scored twice and drove in two.
- Billy Goat: Moises Alou (-.041). Hitless in four at bats.
- Goat: Alex Gonzalez (-.032). One of the tougher placements ever. He had two home runs, three runs scored and three RBI and lands here.
- Kid: Mark Prior (-.014). A pair of sacrifices in four plate appearances.
Game 3, October 10: Cubs 5 at Marlins 4 (2-1)
The Cubs followed Prior with Wood and the Marlins had Mark Redman on the mound. Once again, the Cubs jumped on the Marlins. Lofton had a single to start the game. After he was sacrificed to second, Sosa followed with a single and the Cubs lead 1-0.
After the Marlins went down in order in the bottom of the inning, the Cubs bats went back to work. With one out, Eric Karros singled, Gonzalez walked and Damian Miller walked to load the bases for Kerry Wood. Wood had a sac fly to put the Cubs up 2-0. Lofton singled to re-load the bases, but that was all the Cubs pushed across.
The Marlins got their offense going in the second. Cabrera had their first hit with one out in the second and Jeff Conine followed one out later with a second. Then the Marlins’ Alex Gonzalez had an RBI-double to make it 2-1.
Things stayed relatively calm for a few innings after that. The Cubs put runners on first and second in the fourth and the Marlins loaded the bases in the fifth, but failed to score. The Cubs chased Marlins starter Redman in the seventh while loading the bases, but the score remained 2-1 into the bottom of the seventh.
Wood was still pitching for the Cubs. He allowed a leadoff single to Gonzalez, walked Lowell and then a sacrifice and a ground out tied the game at 2-2. Rodriguez followed with an RBI-single to give the Marlins a 3-2 lead and knock Wood out of the game.
The Cubs wasted little time getting back on top. Future Cub Chad Fox allowed a one-out, pinch-hit triple by Tom Goodwin and then Simon followed with a two-run homer to give the Cubs a 4-3 lead.
In the bottom of the eighth, Kyle Farnsworth was on the mound for the Cubs. He allowed a lead off single to Cabrera. A sacrifice and a fly out later, Hollandsworth came to the plate with the tying run on second and he delivered an RBI-single.
The Cubs were retired in order by Urbina in the ninth. Borowski allowed a single, a sacrifice, an intentional walk, a fly out, a stolen base and another walk before finally recording a scoreless inning. Urbina then retired the Cubs in order a second time and Borowski this time matched the performance.
In the 11th, the Cubs got a one-out single from Lofton and the Marlins turned to Looper again. He was greeted by an RBI triple by Doug Glanville.
Mike Remlinger pitched a scoreless 11th despite a dropped third strike, meaning he essentially retired all four batters he faced. The Cubs were up 2-1.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Doug Glanville (.386). The pinch hit RBI triple in the 11th lands him in the top spot.
- Hero: Randall Simon (.313). The Cubs got great production off of the bench in this one with Simon hitting a two-run homer in the eighth to give the Cubs the lead at 4-3.
- Sidekick: Mike Remlinger (.191). Remlinger with the perfect 11th to close this one out.
- Billy Goat: Kerry Wood (-.146). 6 2⁄3 innings, seven hits, three walks, three runs. Seven strikeouts.
- Goat: Eric Karros (-.127). Karros had a hit and a run scored in four at bats.
- Kid: Mark Grudzielanek (-.122). Hitless in four at bats. He did have a successful sacrifice.
Game 4, October 11: Cubs 8 at Marlins 3 (3-1)
This one saw Matt Clement and the Marlins rookie phenom Dontrelle Willis face off. Once again, the Cubs drew first blood. Lofton walked and one out later Sosa and Alou followed with walks of their own. Ramirez followed with a grand slam and the Cubs were up 4-0.
Each team was held scoreless through the end of the second without any real scoring chance. Clement had walked a batter, hit a batter and allowed a single, but was aided by a double play and a caught stealing.
In the third, Sosa walked again with one out and it was followed by an Alou single. Ramirez then singled to drive in his fifth run of the game. Karros walked and then Gonzalez had an RBI single to greet Marlins reliever Rick Helling. After a Miller strike out and a Clement ground out, the Cubs left the bases loaded.
Clement set down the Marlins in order in the bottom of the third and then the Cubs added on. Lofton walked. One out later he advanced on a wild pitch. One out later Moises Alou added an RBI single to make it 7-0 Cubs.
After each team went in order, the Marlins finally got to Clement in the bottom of the fifth. Cabrera lead off with a single. One out later Conine singled and then the Marlins’ Gonzalez grounded out, scoring a run. Hollandsworth followed with a two-out RBI-single to make it 7-2.
The score remained there until Ramirez hit a solo homer with one out in the seventh to make it 8-2. The Cubs loaded the bases an inning later but failed to score. In the bottom of the inning, the Marlins got a Lenny Harris lead off walk. After a couple of ground balls, Kyle Farnsworth was summoned to face Rodriguez with two outs, a runner on second, and an 8-2 lead. Rodriguez doubled to make it 8-3. But he then got out of the inning.
Each team went in order in the ninth inning and the Cubs had won three straight games to take a 3-1 lead and move to the precipice of their first World Series in 58 years. They only needed one more win.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Aramis Ramirez (.301). This was an easy one after he drove in the first five runs of the game. This game was a glimpse into the monster Ramirez was becoming as a Cub. He had three hits, two home runs, six RBI, a walk, and two runs scored in five plate appearances.
- Hero: Matt Clement (.119). 7⅔ innings, five hits, two walks, three runs, three strikeouts.
- Sidekick: Moises Alou (.087). Reached base his first three times. Two singles and a walk. One RBI, two runs scored in five plate appearances.
- Billy Goat: Mark Grudzielanek (-.050). Hitless in five at bats with two strikeouts.
- Goat: Damian Miller (-.022). One hit and one strikeout in four at bats.
- Kid: Matt Clement (-.021). Hitless in four at bats with a strikeout.
As it turns out, I’m not great with proclamations about sports. I said just a few pieces ago that I don’t do cliffhangers. Yet, I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to split here as I think this breaks nicely right here. For those of you who want to get off the ride before we get to the bad, this is your chance. I’m going to try to tread lightly on the final three games of the series and the postscript, but I recognize that the final three games of this series were gut wrenching and soul crushing.
I talked about proclamations. Let me give you a few other ones that I can remember well. Somewhere around his age 33 season, in a discussion with one of my friends, I proclaimed that Randy Johnson had absolutely no chance of reaching the Hall of Fame. I can’t recall if it was that year or the year after when he was traded to the National League for the first time. I often felt that when Randy was pitching very well into his 40’s that he was doing it just to spite me.
Another proclamation I remember very well was about these 2003 Cubs. I was so giddy by August and September of that year that I proclaimed that the Cubs would never lose three consecutive games started by Wood, Prior and Zambrano. I was already a bit of a math/stat geek by then and I knew that with any three random starters you have just a 12.5% chance of losing three straight games (.5*.5*.5), assuming of course that the teams are relatively equal. I reckoned that the Cubs were about 70% likely to win when Prior started, about 60% likely to win when Wood started and 55% likely when Zambrano started. So that would be about a 94.5% chance of winning one out of three games.
That math isn’t comforting. We all know how things went, but still we’ll press on next time and look at the final three games the Cubs played in 2003. I’ll then have an epilogue where I talk about my impressions after diving back into the action.
As always, I appreciate you reading and appreciate the comments I’ve gotten along this journey.