When last we checked in on our 2003 Cubs, they’d taken four of six on a road trip through Milwaukee and Montreal. That was by any reasonable expectations, a successful trip. Unfortunately, they won the first four games and then let leads slip away in the first of the losses and then came up short in a late rally in the second when Alex Gonzalez grounded into a rather untimely double play.
To compound matters, while the Cubs were winning four of six and having a day off, the Astros played seven games and won five. So despite a positive trip, they still lost half a game in the standings. And so it was that the Cubs were one game out and having 16 games left to play.
Today we’ll look at six of those games. The Cubs came home for six games against the Reds and Mets. With things going down to the wire, we’ll also be checking in on the Astros on the out of town scoreboard. They will be facing a suddenly ice cold Cardinals team at home and then heading out on their final road trip of the season to face the Rockies.
Let’s get to the action.
Game 147, September 12: Cubs 7, Reds 6 (78-69)
This game was a matchup of Kerry Wood and Seth Etherton. The Cubs scored one in the first, two in the second and another in the third. Etherton didn’t even survive the third inning. The Cubs added a run on the fourth with Kerry Wood scoring a run after leading off the inning with a double.
The Reds bounced back with a run in the fifth and then plated five runs in the seventh off of the Cubs bullpen. But the Cubs scored two in the seventh and then held on to the narrow lead for the win. Antonio Alfonseca notched a win and Joe Borowski a save. Meanwhile, the Astros pounded the Cardinals 14-5. The Cubs remained one game out and another day ticked off of the calendar.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Tom Goodwin (.347). Tom got only one at bat in this one, but it was a huge one. He batted with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning and the Cubs trailing 6-5. He came through with a single that drove in the tying and eventual winning runs.
- Hero: Kerry Wood (.210). He threw six innings and allowed five hits, four walks and struck out nine. As noted above, he had a double and scored a run. But he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth and then watched the bullpen implode to cost him a win.
- Sidekick: Joe Borowski (.165). It wasn’t without drama, but Joe pitched a scoreless ninth to record the save. He allowed two hits and struck out two.
- Billy Goat: Antonio Alfonseca (-.368). This is one of the many reasons why people hate pitcher wins, particularly for relievers. Mark Guthrie started the seventh inning with the Cubs leading 5-1. He allowed two singles and a double before being lifted with the score now 5-2. Alfonseca came in and was greeted with a two-run double. He walked the next batter. The Reds elected to sacrifice and then Antonio did record a strikeout. But then he allowed another two-run double before finally getting a pop out to end the inning. And yet, he gets credited for the win. Despite allowing two hits, a walk, two inherited runs, and two runs of his own.
- Goat: Mark Guthrie (-.209). Mark faced three batters, allowed three hits and three runs. Not pretty.
- Kid: Sammy Sosa (-.147). Sammy had an ugly line of his own. Three strikeouts in five hitless at bats. He batted with a total of five men on base and advanced none of them.
Game 148, September 13: Cubs 9, Reds 6 (79-69)
Juan Cruz got the start for the Cubs in this one and John Bale was the Reds starter. Shawn Estes was removed from the Cubs rotation following his September 4 start against the Cards. He didn’t appear again until the double header on September 19 and would only make one more September start.
The Reds drew first blood in this one with a run in the top of the second. But the Cubs answered with four of their own in the bottom of the inning. The Reds plated single runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings to tie the game at four. The Cubs retook the lead in the bottom of the inning highlighted by a lead-off triple by Juan Cruz who scored the go ahead run. But then he allowed consecutive singles to start the sixth. He was relieved by Guthrie who once again failed to get the job done. Guthrie allowed both inherited runners to score before finally getting out of the inning.
The Cubs weren’t done though. They sent 10 men to the plate in the seventh inning against three Reds relievers. They plated four runs and that was all of the scoring in the game. Joe Borowski recorded the save. The winner? Antonio Alfonseca. But he was much better this time. He faced two batters and recorded three outs. Down in Houston? Roy Oswalt out dueled Matt Morris in a 2-0 victory in a game that was completed in just 2:06. Another day off of the calendar and still the Cubs were a game back.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Mark Grudzielanek (.190). Grudzy had a big day with three hits in five at bats, all singles. One of those was an RBI single in the seventh inning that tied the game at six. He had two RBI in all and scored a run. He did strikeout once.
- Hero: Eric Karros (.165). After Randall Simon came to the Cubs, Karros’ playing time diminished. But he had important contributions in this one. He had two two-run doubles in four at bats in this one. He also scored a run. One of those two-run doubles was during the decisive seventh inning.
- Sidekick: Aramis Ramirez (.138). Aramis had two singles, drove in a run and scored another in five plate appearances.
- Billy Goat: Juan Cruz (-.356). Cruz was pounded for 10 hits, a walk, and six runs. He officially pitched five innings, but also faced two batters in the sixth that both scored.
- Goat: Mark Guthrie (-.099). Mark allowed three hits in his one inning of work, allowing both inherited runners from Cruz to score. In two appearances in this series he faced nine batters and allowed six hits.
- Kid: Damian Miller (-.077). Miller was hitless in four at bats and struck out three times.
Game 149, September 14: Cubs 0, Reds 1 (79-70)
The Cubs wasted a fantastic effort by Carlos Zambrano who went the distance in this one. He was one upped by Josh Hall who threw seven scoreless in this one. If you are like me, you don’t remember Josh Hall. That’s because he only pitched six games in the majors. All of them were in 2003. He had a 6.57 ERA and a 5.50 FIP, so this was one of those dominating performances by a nobody that drives fans insane.
This loss is all the more heartbreaking because the one run was scored in the ninth inning. This was a scoreless tie for eight innings. The Astros behind Tim Redding were beating Dan Haren 4-1 and pushing their lead to two games. The Cubs trailed by two games with 13 to play. Things were looking bleak.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Carlos Zambrano (.260). Prior to the ninth inning he’d allowed three hits, no walks and of course no runs. Rookie Ray Olmedo (.239/.280/.274 in 250 plate appearances) walked to start the inning. What is it that people say about lead-off walks? The Reds once again sacrificed. Then Carlos threw a wild pitch. He did get a ground out that didn’t score the run. But then Russ Branyan singled in the winning run.
- Hero: Mark Grudzielanek (.038). Mark had two of the Cubs seven hits (all singles). He also had one of 11 strikeouts for the team.
- Sidekick: Kenny Lofton (.006). He had one of the hits and one of only two walks. Only three Cubs posted positive WPA in this one.
- Billy Goat: Sammy Sosa (-.116). One hit and one strike out in four at bats. The biggest negative was a strikeout to end the inning with runners on first and second in the seventh.
- Goat: Aramis Ramirez (-.103). Ramirez also had one hit and one strike out in four at bats. His biggest negative was a strikeout in the first with runners on first and second and two outs.
- Kid: Paul Bako (-.094). Hitless in three at bats. He struck out once. His biggest negative was grounding into a fielder’s choice after a lead-off single by Alex Gonzalez in the fifth.
Game 150, September 15: Cubs 4, Mets 1 (80-70)
This one was a match-up of Matt Clement and Jeremy Griffiths. Griffiths was a left handed starter for the Mets. The Cubs jumped on Griffiths right out of the gate with three runs in the first. They added another run in the fourth and they were able to cruise to a victory as the team continued to hover around the 10 games over .500 mark. The Astros were off and so the Cubs moved to within 1½ games.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Matt Clement (.267). Matt was superb in this one. He allowed only one unearned run over seven innings of work. The run was aided by an error by Aramis Ramirez. Clement allowed only three hits and two walks. Two of those hits were part of the Reds fifth inning rally that scored the one run.
- Hero: Randall Simon (.100). Randall batted with runners on first and second and one out in the first. He doubled in two runs to make it 3-0 Cubs. This was his only hit in four at bats.
- Sidekick: Mark Grudzielanek (.097). Grudzy continued to be red hot after returning from injury. He had two hits, including a double in four at bats. He scored one run.
- Billy Goat: Sammy Sosa (-.072). Sosa was hitless in four at bats and struck out twice as his slump continued.
- Goat: Alex Gonzalez (-.058). Alex was also hitless in four at bats with two strikeouts.
- Kid: Aramis Ramirez (.009). Clement’s hitting drops out and so Aramis gets a tough luck kid appearance. He had one hit and scored one run in four plate appearances.
Game 151, September 16: Cubs 3, Mets 2 (81-70)
The Cubs reached a new high of 11 games over .500 behind a strong outing by Mark Prior. Prior’s win pushed his record to 16-6. The Mets had Jae Seo on the hill, another lefty starter. He didn’t pitch all together bad, but he wasn’t able to match the results of Mark Prior who pitched into the ninth inning.
Meanwhile, the Astros were in Colorado to open a three game set there. They won the opener behind 14 runs against Rockies pitching. The 14-5 win coupled with the Cubs win kept them 1½ games in first place as the Astros won a fourth straight.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Mark Prior (.339). Mark threw 8⅔ innings and allowed eight hits, one walk and two runs. He struck out 13. Two of the hits he allowed were in the ninth including an RBI double by Matt Watson.
- Hero: Mark Grudzielanek (.122). The other Mark had three hits and a sacrifice bunt in his four plate appearances. One of his hits was a double. He scored a run.
- Sidekick: Sammy Sosa (.122). Sammy had just one hit in four at bats. That hit was a two-run homer in the third. He also drove in a run with a fielder’s choice grounder in the first.
- Billy Goat: Randall Simon (-.079). Simon was hitless in four at bats.
- Goat: Moises Alou (-.078). Moises had one hit in four at bats.
- Kid: Ramon Martinez (-.059). Martinez had one walk and one strikeout in four plate appearances.
Game 152, September 17: Cubs 2, Mets 0 (82-70)
Kerry Wood went the distance to improve his record to 13-11 by outdueling yet another lefty for the Mets in Al Leiter. The Cubs scored single runs in the first and second innings and Wood took care of it from there.
Each of those two Cubs runs came via a home run by a Cubs hitter. One of those was a homer leading off the game by Doug Glanville. If you are like me, you remember Doug as a first round pick by the Cubs in the 1991 draft (12th overall). He reached the majors in 1996 at the age of 25. He was a regular starter for the Cubs in 1997 but was traded to the Phillies in exchange for Mickey Morandini after the season. He came back to the Cubs in a trade during the 2003 season. Doug played parts of nine seasons in the majors. He had 1,115 games played and 4,282 plate appearances. He had a line of .277/.315/.380 in his career (OPS+79).
The Astros lost to the Rockies 7-5 and the Cubs moved back to within half a game of first place. Unfortunately on September 18, while the Cubs were off ahead of their final road trip of the season, the Astros bounced back with a 6-0 win over the Rockies behind Wade Miller. The Cubs were back one game out of first with only 10 to play.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Kerry Wood (.562). Kerry had two of the top five and three of the top 10 (and four of 11) WPA performances of the year. This was the fifth largest WPA of the year. He allowed only four hits and one walk while striking out 11. He also singled.
- Hero: Aramis Ramirez (.068). The Cubs only sent 29 men to the plate in this one as they only managed four hits of their own. But two of those were homers and one was by Ramirez. This was his only hit in three at bats.
- Sidekick: Doug Glanville (.057). Doug had the other homer, leading off the game for the Cubs. He had only one hit in three at bats and struck out once.
- Billy Goat: Josh Paul (-.067). Paul played in only three games as a Cub. This was one of two starts he made for the Cubs in September after being released by the White Sox in June and signing with the Cubs in July. Josh never had a hit as a Cub.
- Kid: Tony Womack (-.046). Tony was hitless in four at bats.
The Cubs took five of six on the homestand, taking two of three from the Reds and sweeping the Mets. The Astros also took five of six and so it was that the two teams were in the same position. The Cubs were one game back in second place. The Astros were half way through their final six game road trip of the season. The Cubs were heading out on their final seven game road trip of the season.
So finally, the Cubs exceeded expectations in a block of games and they still didn’t gain any ground. This left them on the morning of September 19 one game out of first with just 10 games to play. The Astros also had 10 games left. Schedule-wise, the Astros benefited from having seven of 10 at home while the Cubs had seven of 10 on the road. Neither team had particularly strong competition (Cubs had Pirates, Reds and Pirates and Astros had Cardinals, Giants, and Brewers).
Next up is that seven-game road trip for the Cubs as they headed to Pittsburgh for four games including a doubleheader to start the series. They would then head on to Cincinnati for three with the Reds. We’ll cover that road trip next time.
Until then, thanks for reading and thanks for commenting.