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Monday, October 14, 2013
Ten years ago was a day of infamy on the North Side of Chicago. It was one of the most famous collapses any team ever had in the postseason, all the more notable because of the team having it—and its dreadful history.
There is this team called the Cubs—maybe you’ve heard of them. They haven’t typically been very good at the whole “winning baseball games” thing for quite some time. As the song goes, the last time the Cubs won the National League pennant was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan—1945.
That’s easily the longest stretch any team has had without appearing in the Fall Classic. The next longest current World Series-less slump is the Expos/Nationals, who have never made it to the big show since their debut in 1969. That’s 24 years after the Cubs slump began.
But in 2003, it looked like it could finally be Chicago’s turn. The Cubs topped the Braves in the NLDS for their first postseason series victory since the 1908 World Series and advanced to the NLCS versus the surprising Florida Marlins. Behind young pitchers Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano, the Cubs took a three-games-to-one lead.
Chicago lost Game Five when Josh Beckett threw a complete game two-hit shutout, but that’s okay. The Cubs still had the edge in the series, the final two games would be in Chicago, and they had their two best starters ready to pitch: Prior and Wood.
In Game Six on Oct. 14, 2003, things were going well for the Cubs. Through seven innings, Prior had shut down the Marlins without a run. Meanwhile, the Cubs plated three runs for the 3-0 edge. Heading into the eighth, they were just six outs from their first pennant in ages.
I remember watching the game at home, and just wishing that Prior could get a couple of easy outs to begin the eighth. He was at 95 pitches, and maybe this is just Cubs fan paranoia, but I didn’t feel the lead was too safe yet. Just a few quick outs, and then you can hand a three-run lead to the bullpen for one inning. Fine.
Leading off, Marlins shortstop Mike Mordecai fought Prior for a little bit, but flew out easily to Moises Alou in left. One away. Just five outs to record before the Marlins scored three runs. According to WPA, the Cubs now had a 95 percent chance to win.
Up to the plate came Juan Pierre. No one’s idea of a sabermetric darling, the speedy Pierre was a contact hitter. He wasn’t good at working the count and he didn’t have power, but he was good at putting wood on the ball.
Prior fell behind, with the first two pitches called balls. This is unlike Pierre—taking pitches. He took the next one for a called strike. Pierre then started swinging—and fouling. He fouled off two in a row, but the third time was the charm for Pierre: a double down the line.
Up next came Luis Castillo— and one of the most famous moments in Cubs history.
Castillo was similar to Pierre. Both were speedy players without much power. Castillo had more patience than Pierre, though, and he showed it here. He took each of Prior’s first five offerings for three balls and two called strikes. (It’s worth noting how patient the Marlins were being at the plate to start the inning. In 15 pitches, they had taken 11. Either they were mighty disciplined or Prior’s command was off and Florida had noticed it).
Prior throws a sixth pitch, and Castillo fouls it off to stay alive. Time for another pitch and another Castillo swing,for another foul ball. Watching at home, this was torture. Instead of some quick outs, the Marlins had made Prior throw 17 pitches, and he still had just one out.
Well, that could all change if Castillo made an out on the next one. Sure enough he swung again, a lofted one along the wall in left. In any other park in America, that would be easily in play. But Wrigley Field has the smallest foul territory of any stadium.
Still left fielder Alou made his effort, approaching the wall, and did a terrific job timing his leap to get the ball.
We all know what happened. Alou stuck his glove out into the stands to catch it, but the ball never landed in it. Several fans saw a chance to get that most prize souvenir—a foul ball!—and made a play for it. Most famous became the fan right in front of Alou’s glove, a fan sitting in Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113: Steve Bartman.
Reaching for it, Bartman deflected it, ruining whatever chance Alou had for the catch. Who knows—maybe Alou wouldn’t have caught it anyway. It was a tricky play no matter what. But Alou was livid that a hometown fan would interfere. He turned around, lifted his glove to his shoulder and slammed it on the field.
Let’s pause and try some counterfactual history. What happens if Alou doesn’t act like that? Does anyone ever hear the name Steve Bartman? Probably not. It just becomes another foul ball a player reached into the stands to get but couldn’t come down with. Those things happen.
But Alou did slam his glove down, putting a giant bulls eye on Bartman. As the inning progressed, the bigger a target he became. Bartman could hear the fans jeer him, and on his headphones could listen to veteran Cubs broadcaster Steve Stone utterly blast into him.
So the Cubs didn’t have their second out of the inning. Still alive at the plate, Castillo made the Cubs—and Steve Bartman—pay on the very next offering. He took another pitch for ball four. So a possible out was now a base runner. It was just a man on first—he didn’t even advance Pierre on second—but now we had a rally going.
And up next was star catcher Ivan Rodriguez. And he really began making the Cubs pay, swatting a single that scored Pierre and sent Castillo to second. It was 3-1 with the tying run on.
And it should’ve ended right there. Young Marlins third baseman Miguel Cabrera now came up. Though a great talent, the Cubs had him this time. He slapped Prior’s first pitch to the right of shortstop Alex Gonzalez.
Never a great hitter, Gonzalez had his starting job because of his glove. He was supposed to be a dependable fielder out there. But now, at the most critical moment of all, he wasn’t at all dependable. The possible double play ball bounced off the heel of his glove. Instead of an inning ending ground out, or at least an easy second out, all hands were safe. The bases were loaded and a single could tie it up.
Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113 must’ve felt like the loneliest seat in the world. Soon, security would have to escort Bartman from the building for his own safety. I remember my mom watching the game at home and—while she was no one’s idea of a bellicose fan—she was also screaming at what an idiot that guy in left field was.
Did the moment get to Gonzalez? Did he choke or was it just one of those things that happens sometimes? It’s impossible to know, but it sure looked like the moment was getting to the Cubs.
Next up: slugging first baseman Derrek Lee. Prior’s first offering to him—his 24th pitch of the inning—was a good one for Lee. He bashed a liner into left for a double. Two runs came around to tie the game, 3-3. And the winning run was just 90 feet from home plate. Oh, and there was still just one out.
So long Mark Prior. Cubs manager Dusty Baker, never known for his in-game tactical maneuvers, was too slow on the hook, but did reach for it eventually here. Baker went for hard throwing Kyle Farnsworth. The archetypal million-dollar arm but 10 cent head pitcher, Farnsworth had had a good season, and now sure would be a great time for a strikeout.
First, Farnsworth issued an intentional walk to load the bases and set up the double play. Jeff Conine came up next and hit a sacrifice fly to score another run. Now it was 4-3 Marlins.
Let’s go back to counterfactual hell for a second. If Bartman hadn’t gotten in the way and Alou made the catch, the inning would’ve ended with a 3-2 Cubs lead. The run wouldn’t have scored on Conine’s fly (which would’ve been the third out) and Castillo wouldn’t have been on base to score the second run.
Though the Cubs no longer needed the double play, Baker opted to intentionally walk the next batter anyway. Yeah, I don’t get that. Like I said, though, Baker was never known for his in-game tactics.
Now Mordecai came up for the second time this inning, and stuck a dagger in the Cubs' hearts. The Marlins still had the lead, but it was just a one-run advantage. But Mordecai clocked a double that cleared the bases. Three runs scored, including two guys who reached base on intentional walks, and it was 7-3 Marlins.
That was all for Farnsworth. New pitcher Mike Remlinger then gave up an RBI single to Pierre to make it 8-3. Finally, mercifully, the Cubs got a pop up to end the disaster. The out was Luis Castillo—the same man who hit one to Bartman earlier.
The Cubs had no fight after that. Six up, six down in the bottoms of the eight and ninth. It took just 18 pitches to put them down, with only two batters lasting more than two pitches.
There was plenty of blame to around after the game: Prior for his pitching, Gonzalez for botching the grounder, Baker for his managing. But it was the really odd moment at the beginning that everyone remembered. And the next day, the Chicago Sun-Times gave the lynch mob a name; Steve Bartman. And his life forever changed for the worse.
All of this could’ve been forgotten if the Cubs won Game Seven, but co-ace Kerry Wood just plain didn’t have his stuff, and the Cubs lost, blowing a great shot for the pennant.
At the time, they were one of three pre-expansion teams with long droughts without winning the World Series. But the next year the Red Sox won their first world title since 1918, and the following season the White Sox won their first world title since 1917.
But that was in the future. Tenyears ago today was a nightmare loss for the Cubs and their fans—especially the one in Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113.
Forty years ago today, one of the ugliest World Series games of all-time took place. It was an exciting game with lots of drama, but the drama and tension were often caused not by players making great plays, but by guys stumbling and bumbling around the field.
In fact, it was so ugly that there are two different ways it’s remembered. For some, this will forever be known as the game in which Willie Mays looked old. For others, it’s the Mike Andrews Game. For everyone, though, it was an error-laden contest. There were six official fielding errors, plus many other bad-looking plays.
Oct. 14, 1973 was Game Two of the 1973 World Series, pitting the defending champion “Mustache Gang” Oakland A’s against the upstart Mets. The Mets had barely finished over .500 with a 82-79 record, but that was just enough to win the division, and then they’d stunningly won the NLCS.
The A’s entered the night having won the first game, and liked their odds with 20-game winner (and 1971 AL MVP) Vida Blue taking the mound against Mets hurler Jerry Koosman.
Early on, things went well for the A’s. They took an early 3-2 lead, and loaded the bases with just one out in the third, threatening to blow the game open. The Mets yanked Koosman (who had just committed a fielding error, loading the bases), trusting in the bullpen to solve the problem.
The Mets got some unexpected help from some poor base running by Oakland. Lead runner Gene Tenace strayed too far from third, and Mets catcher Jerry Grote whipped the ball to third baseman Wayne Garrett to pick him off.
Tenace couldn’t get back in time, and thus made a desperate and futile effort to steal home, easily getting gunned down. Reliever Ray Sadecki then struck out a batter to end the inning and ruin the A’s threat. As the night went on, the A’s would kick themselves for missing a chance to score there.
The game stayed 3-2 until the sixth, when the game got interesting—and ugly. Blue let two of the first three batters reach on him, so manager Dick Williams pulled him for reliever Horacio Pina. It turned out to be a bad move, as Pina plunked the first batter he faced, loading the bases. The next two batters hit RBI singles, giving the Mets a 4-3 lead, and that was all for Pina.
Time for Pina’s bullpen mate Darold Knowles to have a rough go of it. With the bases still loaded, Knowles coaxed Mets pinch hitter Jim Beauchamp to tab a grounder back to the mound. Knowles had a clean play and threw home to nail the lead runner—but somehow, some way, lost his balance as he threw it. The ball skittered wildly away, and before anyone could corral it, the Mets had two more runs—and a 6-3 lead.
The rest of the inning went without incident, but it was already quite an ugly game—and none of the ugliness people remember it for had happened yet.
The game’s first moment of unwanted fame came in the bottom of the ninth. By now, the Mets led 6-4. They needed just three more outs. Leading off, pinch hitter Deron Johnson lifted a fly to center field. In the outfield, the legendary Willie Mays went out to get it.
Mays had just entered the game. Injured and unable to play late in the season, at 42 Mays had already announced that this was his last season. Still, he was still a savvy and speedy enough ball player for the Mets to insert him as a pinch runner, as they had in the top of the ninth for the much younger Rusty Staub.
Now on defense, Mays was not only one of the most famous players in history, not only one of the greatest defensive outfielders in history. He also had made maybe the most famous defensive play in World Series history when he ran down a Vic Wertz liner in the 1954 Fall Classic and immediately threw it back to the infield for a double play. That was the moment people most associate with the Say Hey Kid.
And now came a moment that made people realize just how long ago 1954 was. The once-stellar Mays looked all his age as he tried to track the fly in the daytime sun. (Yes, they still had World Series games in daytime back then). Try as he could, Mays lost it in the sun and then the impossible happened. The supremely coordinated, ever-graceful Mays tripped and fell down as he ran after the ball. Johnson had a single to lead off the inning.
The Mets retired the next two batters—so the game might’ve been over if Mays had gotten to that fly cleanly—and then (of course) the A’s sparked a rally to tie it. Three straight batters reached, and two scored. It was all tied up, 6-6 and headed into overtime.
And much ugliness still waited.
There was some controversy in the top of the 10th. Mets infielder Bud Harrelson reached on an error (the third A’s error of the game, and counting), and tried to score the go-ahead run on a fly ball to Joe Rudi in left. The throw beat Harrelson, but he appeared to have eluded the tag by catcher Ray Fosse. Umpire Augie Donatelli called him out anyway, ending the inning. A heated exchange ensued, but it was par for the course in this game. Some bad base running, bad fielding – why not some controversial umpiring as well?
The game soldiered into the 12th, where things really fell apart. Against relief ace Rollie Fingers, the Mets rallied for a go-ahead run on a double and three singles (including a bunt single by pitcher Tug McGraw).
The A’s needed just one more out to get out of the frame down by just one, when the ugliest moments of an ugly game happened. Mets batter John Milner rapped a routine grounder to A’s second baseman Mike Andrews. It looked like an easy out to end the inning, but the ball went through Andrews’ legs for an error and two more runs scored.
Then, trying to score from second base, Willie Mays looked old again—he tripped and fell while making his way home. It was ultimately unimportant as he managed to score anyway. But it just reinforced the image from the ninth that Mays had hung on too long.
And the inning’s ugliness wasn’t over. Right after Milner’s grounder, teammate Jerry Grote hit another one right at Mike Andrews. This time Andrews picked it up cleanly—only to throw it away. Another run came around to score for a 10-6 lead.
That ended the half-inning, but the stench followed into the bottom of the 12th. Leading off the bottom of the ninth, Reggie Jackson hit one to Mays, who lost another one in the sun, and Jackson ended up on third with what the scorer ruled a triple. Moments later, Jackson came home on a single.
That ended the scoring, as the Mets won 10-7 in 12 weird innings. The game had seen six errors—five by Oakland—a player picked off third (officially, he was out trying to steal home), a controversial call at the plate by the umpire, and three hit batsmen. Oh, and that doesn’t include the three times Willie Mays embarrassed himself on the field.
Eventually, the Mets' win didn't mean much. The game would forever by linked with Mays as a cautionary example of an athlete staying around too long.
The game also had a nasty epilogue for Mike Andrews. Team owner Charles Finley was so infuriated with Andrews that he forced him to sign a bogus medical report that forced him off the postseason roster. The whole thing blew up in Finley’s face, though. The media and commissioner found out, Andrews denounced the report, he was put back on the roster, and manager Dick Williams violated a direct order by Finley and used him again in the Series. However, Finley’s reputation as an ogre owner was cemented. In fact, shortly afterward, Williams told the team that regardless of what happened in the Series, he was done with the A’s—he wouldn’t come back next year. He didn't, even though the A's wound up winning this World Series in seven games
So it was a mighty ugly game that happened—and it happened 40 years ago today.