You all know what happened in this game and there’s no need to belabor it for the gazillionth time.
Instead, let me write a bit of alternate history starting from what was the actual key moment in the game.
It’s the top of the eighth and there’s one out. Luis Castillo has walked and gone to second on a wild pitch and Ivan Rodriguez singles him in to make it 3-1 Cubs.
Those things actually happened. Now let’s change history.
Dusty Baker, instead of sitting on his butt, comes out of the dugout at this point to take out Mark Prior, who had thrown 117 pitches. (Obviously you’d never do this today, let a starter go that long.)
In comes Joe Borowski, who had time to warm up while those previous two hitters were batting.
Borowski gets Cabrera to hit a ground ball to Alex Gonzalez at short — just as Prior did in real life. Only instead of booting it, Gonzalez turns a double play and the inning is over. The Cubs lead 3-1 and need just three more outs.
In the bottom of the eighth, instead of striking out as he did in real life, Aramis Ramirez cranks a ball onto Waveland and Wrigley Field explodes.
Borowski retires Derrek Lee, Mike Lowell and Jeff Conine in order in the ninth and the Cubs are National League champions for the first time in 58 years.
With Kerry Wood, Prior and Carlos Zambrano set to start the first three games of the World Series, the Cubs easily dominate a tired Yankees team pushed to the limit by the Red Sox and end their 95-year championship drought.
What happens to the franchise after that?
Dusty Baker is hailed as a hero and gets a contract extension
Baker had three years remaining on his contract after 2003. The championship gives Jim Hendry leeway to extend that by two more years. If Baker continues to succeed, he could well have been Cubs manager for a decade.
The Cubs make the playoffs again in 2004
With the experience of winning it all in ‘03, the Cubs don’t have the so-called “monkey on their back” anymore as they come down to the wire in ‘04 in command of the wild-card spot (the Cardinals, in this alternate history, still win the NL Central). They don’t blow consecutive extra-inning games to the Reds and win the wild card. Since at the time wild cards couldn’t face a divisional rival in the Division Series, the Cubs play the Braves again and beat them, while the Cardinals dispatch the Astros. That sets up an epic NLCS, the first-ever Cubs/Cardinals playoff series, and the Cubs win it and play the Red Sox in the World Series.
That’s where the happy part of this alternate history ends, because after the Cubs end their drought in 2003, Boston ends theirs over the Cubs in ‘04.
Baker doesn’t feel the need to overuse Kerry Wood and Mark Prior
In real life, the pressure to win got so great that Baker over-relied on Wood and Prior. Whether that actually helped blow both their arms out is still a matter of discussion, but in our alternate history neither Wood nor Prior gets injured and they both go on to have long careers in the Cubs rotation.
The Cubs sell even more tickets than they did in real life in 2004, and at higher prices
2004 was the year when, given the anticipation after ‘03, Cubs fans jammed tickets.com servers and phone lines and many people didn’t get through to buy tickets for up to eight hours on the first day of sales.
The Cubs, after winning the alternate-history World Series, raise prices 20 percent and fans happily pay it, the price of winning. They sell out every game — including cold days and nights in April — and set an attendance record of 3,312,900, which stands to this day.
All the money the Cubs bring into the neighborhood gets them leverage for more night games
Having World Series games at Wrigley Field becomes a huge boost for neighborhood businesses (as it did in real life in 2016). The City Council understands this and lifts restrictions on night games, to begin in 2007.
Those are just a few things that could have happened if the Cubs had won Game 6 — as they were so, so close to doing.
What other things might have been different?