If you’ve been following along (thanks!), then you know when we left off, the Cubs were leading the 2003 National League Championship Series three games to one. They were just one win away from the World Series. Of course, you are a Cub fan if you are reading this and knowing a bit about Cubs history, you know that what follows isn’t pretty. I don’t get excited about even writing out the last three games. But the history of that season isn’t complete without these three games, so I’m going to press on. On an off day, I’ll have an epilogue regarding the 2003 season and some of my takeaways from writing about this season. Included will be the final regular season standings for Heroes and Goats for 2003.
H&G will always be the driving force of these stories. But the aim is also to cover the history of these events. To remind you of some of the people who helped along the way. To discuss some of the highs and the lows and the extra ordinary moments and games of the year. With that lead in, we go from the highest of the highs to the lowest of the lows as we look at how the team went from the edge of the promised-land to the doldrums of despair in just a few short days. We look at when my prediction that the trio of Prior, Wood and Zambrano, wouldn’t... couldn’t be beaten in three straight games. One belly flop of an incorrect prediction.
Game 5, October 12: Cubs 0 at Marlins 4 (3-2)
With the Cubs looking for one more win to get the World Series, they handed the ball to game one starter, Carlos Zambrano. The Marlins also came back with their Game 1 starter Josh Beckett. As you may recall, the Marlins won their first round series in four games while it took the Cubs the full five games to win theirs. One of the resulting events was the Marlins sending their ace to the mound in game one while the Cubs didn’t have Mark Prior available until game two.
If you have been a Cubs fan for a long time, you may recall that Carlos Zambrano tended to get over amped for big games and his results sometimes suffered. This was not that kind of appearance from Zambrano. Zambrano and Beckett locked horns in an epic duel in the early innings. The Cubs didn’t manage their first hit in this one until the top of the fifth inning. They did work one walk against Beckett during that time.
The Marlins managed a single in the first and a walk in the second. They grouped a single, a walk, a wild pitch and a hit by pitch to load the bases in the third inning but the game remained scoreless. The Marlins again loaded the bases in the fourth on two singles and a walk, but once again Zambrano shut the door.
Alex Gonzalez had a two-out single in the fifth for the first Cubs hit. In the bottom of the inning the Marlins drew first blood. With one out, Miguel Cabrera walked and one batter later Mike Lowell homered to give the Marlins a 2-0 lead.
The Cubs went down in order in the sixth. They got a one-out Moises Alou single in the seventh but still didn’t get a runner past first. Ivan Rodriguez hit a solo homer off of Dave Veres in the seventh to give the Marlins a 3-0 lead.
The Cubs were retired in order by Josh Beckett in the eighth. Jeff Conine then homered off of Mike Remlinger in the eighth. Beckett finished what he started, setting the Cubs down in order in the ninth.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Antonio Alfonseca (.011). Alfonseca faced two batters and retired them both.
- Hero: Moises Alou (.003). One hit and one strike out in three at bats. Your chances of winning are close to zero if your clean-up hitter gets only three plate appearances.
- Sidekick: Troy O’Leary (-.006). Retired in his only at bat as a pinch hitter in this one. A “negative hero” is almost always going to mean you were entirely shut down. The Cubs mustered only two hits and one walk in this one.
- Billy Goat: Randall Simon (-.083). Simon was hitless in three at bats.
- Goat: Paul Bako (-.068). Paul was also hitless in three at bats. He struck out twice.
- Kid: Sammy Sosa (-.063). Sosa got four at bats and was hitless. He struck out once. The Cubs struck out 11 times in all.
Game 6, October 14: Cubs 3, Marlins 8 (3-3)
Boy, did I remember this game differently. For some reason, I felt like the lead was much larger in this one. I’m sure I’m not the only one who attempted to wipe this game from my memory forever.
Mark Prior was on the mound against Carl Pavano. There is really no mincing of words. This is the game where the Cubs should have gone to the World Series. This was an epic mismatch. The Cubs had pounded Pavano the first time and Prior was already establishing himself as one of the elite pitchers in baseball.
In the top of the first the Marlins had a single and a walk, but were held scoreless. The Cubs got right to work. Kenny Lofton singled to lead off the inning and then was sacrificed to second. Sammy Sosa followed with an RBI double. Moises Alou had an infield hit but the Cubs couldn’t add on.
The Marlins and Cubs each had singles in the second, but neither team had a runner get to second. In the third, the Marlins got a runner on by way of en error by Mark Grudzielanek. He then advanced to second on a Paul Bako passed ball. But they remained scoreless. The Cubs went in order in the third.
In the fourth, Prior issued his second walk, but the score remained 1-0. The Cubs had a single and a walk in the bottom of the inning, but a double play grounder in the middle kept the inning from developing.
The Marlins had a single in the fifth, but the runner was caught stealing. The Cubs were once again retired in order in the bottom of the fifth and the game reached the sixth at 1-0 Cubs.
The Marlins were set down in order in the sixth, all strikeouts by Prior. In the bottom of the sixth, the Cubs got back on the board. The inning was started with a Sammy Sosa lead-off single. Moises Alou followed with a single of his own. Unfortunately, Aramis Ramirez grounded into a double play. That left a runner on third with two outs. Eric Karros then drew a walk against Dontrelle Willis who had just entered the game. Willis then threw a wild pitch and the Cubs had a 2-0 lead.
Prior recorded three fly outs in the seventh and the Cubs went back to work in the seventh. Paul Bako lead off with a single and Prior executed a sacrifice. Kenny Lofton then struck out and that brought Grudzielanek to the plate. Grudzy singled and that gave the Cubs a 3-0 lead. Sammy Sosa followed with a single, but the Cubs were unable to tack on.
This is your last chance to exit before the eighth inning recap.
Mark Prior recorded a fourth consecutive fly out to start the eighth inning. That left the game with five outs to go. Light-hitting Juan Pierre doubled. With Luis Castillo at the plate, a foul ball was hit towards the left field corner. It appeared that Moises Alou might be able to make a remarkable play, but he was unable to do so when a fan interfered with the play. Alou was visibly angered on the field and the Cubs began to unravel.
Luis Castillo worked a walk. Prior then had a wild pitch. Mark Prior averaged about two walks per nine innings in 2003. He had nine wild pitches in 211⅓ innings of work on the season. Both of those things were a little odd. At best, Prior was tiring, at worst he was one of those who got rattled. Ivan Rodriguez then singled and the Marlins were on the board.
The next play will always be, to me, the defining one of the collapse. A ground ball was hit to Alex Gonzalez. With runners on first and second, a double play would end the inning. Not only didn’t Gonzalez turn a double play, he failed to get any outs.
Derrek Lee then batted with the bases loaded. Prior was left in to pitch. Dusty Baker seemed glued in place as he watched his team go up in flames. Lee doubled, scoring two to tie the game. Finally, Kyle Farnsworth was summoned. He intentionally walked the first batter he faced to load the bases and then Jeff Conine hit a sacrifice fly to give the Marlins the lead and all of the runners moved up. Another intentional walk was issued and then Mike Mordecai of all people hit a three run double. Pierre followed with a single off of Mike Remlinger and that was pretty much ball game.
The Cubs were retired in order in both the eighth and ninth innings. The series was tied at three games apiece.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Sammy Sosa (.209). I keep thinking of how history might have remembered Sosa if it weren’t for the eighth inning of this game. Sosa had three hits, an RBI and a run scored in four at bats.
- Hero: Moises Alou (.039). Alou had two hits in four at bats. Though I think the Gonzalez error was the back breaker, I’ll always wish that Alou had provided veteran leadership but his inner competitor took over when that fan got in his way.
- Sidekick: Paul Bako (.010). Paul had two hits and a run scored in four at bats. Paul didn’t have a lot of two hit games, this one came at a crucial time.
- Billy Goat: Kyle Farnsworth (-.287). He faced four batters, issues two intentional walks and allowed a double. He was charged with three earned runs.
- Goat: Mark Prior (-.160). 7⅓ innings, six hits, three walks, three earned runs. He struck out six. Did he run out of gas or lose his composure? We’ll never know.
- Kid: Randall Simon (-.106). Simon was hitless in two at bats.
Game 7, October 15: Cubs 6, Marlins 9 (3-4)
Kerry Wood had been involved in some of the biggest moments in recent Cubs history. And he was on the mound in this one. The opposition was Mark Redman. It was hard not to love this matchup in a winner-take-all game.
Alas, Juan Pierre tripled to start the game and then one out later Ivan Rodriguez drew a walk and Miguel Cabrera hit a three-run homer to put the Cubs in an early hole. Mark Grudzielanek had a one-out single in the first, but advanced no further.
Wood settled down after a lead-off single in the second and worked a scoreless inning. Then the Cubs bats went to work. Eric Karros had a one-out single and Alex Gonzalez followed with a double. Damian Miller then grounded out to drive in the first Cubs run. That brought Kerry Wood to the plate. Wood hit a two-run game-tying home-run and Wrigley was electric.
With the game tied 3-3, Wood set down the Marlins in order in the third, striking out the final two hitters. Then in the bottom of the inning, Redman hit Sammy Sosa with a pitch with one out and Moises Alou made him pay for that with a two-run homer.
Despite a two-out walk, Wood through a scoreless fourth. The Marlins used starter Brad Penny in relief and he threw a perfect fourth against the bottom of the Cubs order.
The Marlins battled back in the fifth. Pinch hitter Brian Banks walked and then one batter later Luis Castillo also walked. That brought Ivan Rodriguez to the plate and he doubled in a run. Cabrera followed with an RBI ground out to tie the game and then Derrek Lee had an RBI single to give the Marlins the lead.
Josh Beckett was called upon to protect the lead and retired the Cubs in order in the fifth. The Marlins got a lead off single from Jeff Conine in the sixth and then two outs later Pierre had a single. Luis Castillo followed with an RBI single to greet reliever Kyle Farnsworth to give the Marlins a 7-5 lead.
Beckett worked a perfect sixth inning. The Marlins had a two-out rally in the seventh started by a Mike Lowell single. Conine followed with a single and then Marlins’ Alex Gonzalez doubled in two runs against Dave Veres who had just entered the game. The Cubs did cut down Gonzalez on the bases, but the damage was done and the Marlins had a 9-5 lead.
Josh Beckett retired two more hitters in the seventh before finally allowing his first base runner. That was in the person of Troy O’Leary who hit a solo homer to make it 9-6.
Both teams were retired in order in the eighth and the Marlins managed only a two-out double in the ninth but no more runs. Aramis Ramirez was hit by a pitch from Ugueth Urbina to start the ninth but advanced no further as the following three hitters went strike out, strike out, fly out.
Josh Beckett dominated the Cubs in the series and in the end that proved to be too much. Miguel Cabrera and Ivan Rodriguez at very different points of their respective careers seemed to come up with big hits every time they needed to. Juan Pierre was a thorn in the Cubs side as he could be at times. The Marlins got hot in the playoffs and rode it to the World Series. I’ll talk more about the 2003 season and the way things ended in my epilogue at a later date.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Kerry Wood, hitter (.178). Kerry had a two-run homer in two at bats.
- Hero: Moises Alou (.127). Alou also had a two-run homer in four at bats.
- Sidekick: Troy O’Leary (.040). A pinch-hit solo homer in his only at bat.
- Billy Goat: Kerry Wood, pitcher (-.426). The best times, the worst of times. The offensive star and the Goat on the pitching side. 5⅔ innings, seven hits, four walks, seven runs. He did strike out six.
- Goat: Dave Veres (-.119). He faced one batter and allowed a two-run double and got his only out via an out on the bases.
- Kid: Kenny Lofton (-.077). Hitless in four at bats with one strikeout.
As always, thanks for reading, especially on this very difficult set of games.