April 17, 2003: Cubs explode for 16 runs in win over Reds
“Everybody has been swinging the bat unbelievable and the pitching has been great,” said Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs. “That’s how you win games, when everybody contributes.”1 The Cubs exploded in the finale of their four-game series against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field, trouncing the NL’s oldest franchise, 16-3, the third consecutive game in which the Cubs had scored at least 10 runs.
Given the Cubs’ offensive fireworks, many fans couldn’t help but wonder if this was the team that sportswriter Mike Kiley of the Chicago Sun-Times suggested was finally “ready to wrestle with the onerous burden of not having won a World Series since 1908.”2 A few weeks into the start of a new season, the air was full of promise for the North Siders with the offseason hiring of Dusty Baker as manager. Having come off a World Series appearance with the San Francisco Giants the year before, Baker provided the Cubs and their fans with a renewed sense of confidence heading into the 2003 season. After a slow start, the Cubs had recently hit their stride and entered the game in first place in the NL Central with a 9-6 slate, a half-game up on three challengers. After a miserable 67-95 record the season before, the Cubs’ promising start suggested that their relentless pattern of losing, described by sportswriter Nancy Armour of the Associated Press as “trying desperately to scratch out a run here and there as the losses piled up,” would finally make a turn under Baker’s new direction.3
With a northeasterly wind gusting off Lake Michigan at a blustery 14 mph on a typically cold spring afternoon in the Windy City, the conditions seemed to favor the teams defensively, an environment that sportswriter Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune described as a “pitcher’s paradise.“4 By the bottom of the first inning, however, the Cubs made it clear this would not be the case. With his Reds (5-10) tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for last place in the NL Central, skipper Bob Boone sent 30-year-old right-handed pitcher Jimmy Haynes, a nine-year veteran coming off a career-year (15-10), to turn the tide. Haynes, who had been shelled for 15 earned runs in just 13 innings in his three starts (all losses) thus far in ’03, struggled to keep the Cubs off the basepaths in the first inning, walking two and yielding three hits in the bottom of the first inning for four runs. Corey Patterson and Mark Bellhorn did the damage with consecutive two-run singles with two outs.
In the bottom of the third, Hee-Seop Choi added to the Cubs’ lead by clubbing the first of the team’s four home runs. It was the 6-foot-5-inch Korean’s third round-tripper in as many games. Patterson followed with a triple and scored on a double to left field by Bellhorn, giving the North Siders a 6-0 lead.
While the Cubs were storming out to an early lead, 25-year-old right-handed ace Kerry Wood held the Reds hitless through three frames. Acknowledged as one of the hardest throwers in baseball, the five-year veteran with a career record of 47-30 (including 2-0 thus far ’03) stumbled in the fourth, loading the bases on a single, walk, and hit batter. Brandon Larson’s sacrifice fly brought in Aaron Boone for the Reds’ initial tally.
The fireworks continued in the bottom of the fifth inning for the 29,672 spectators, about 10,000 shy of a sellout. With Bellhorn on second base, Wood belted a Haynes serving over the right-center-field wall for his fifth career home run. “I don’t know how it made it out,” Wood said. “I didn’t think I had a chance when I hit it.”5 Leading 8-1, the Cubs were not finished. Continuing to struggle on the mound, Haynes walked Mark Grudzielanek and Alex Gonzalez before being replaced by right-hander Josias Manzanillo. Sosa greeted the journeyman reliever with a home run to deep right field which, according to sportswriter Sullivan, bounced off an apartment building across Waveland Avenue on one hop, driving in Gonzalez and Grudzielanek, and giving the Cubs an 11-1 lead.6 For Sosa it was his third straight game with a home run; it was also his 503rd round-tripper (in just his 15th year), leaving him one shy of Eddie Murray for 17th place on the career list.7 “They’ve been hot the last three days,” said Haynes, charged with 10 hits, 6 walks, and a career-high 10 runs in 4⅓ forgettable innings. “They’re not missing many pitches. It seems like every hit finds a hole.”8 Collared with the loss, Haynes became the first Reds pitcher to lose his first four starts of the season since Joey Jay in 1963.9 [In fairness to Haynes, he was playing with back stiffness that landed him on the disabled list after the game].10
With a Cubs victory all but assured, Aaron Boone, the manager’s son, led off the top of the sixth with a double to left field and was sent home on Adam Dunn’s one-out home run, his sixth of the season, tying him with teammate Austin Kearns as well as Houston’s Jeff Bagwell for the NL lead. The Cubs stayed red-hot in the bottom of the frame. Troy O’Leary lined a single to left to drive in Patterson, who had led off with a double. Grudzielanek hit the fourth and final Cubs home run of the contest, driving in two more runs to make the score 15-3. “Being around guys like Sammy and Alex [Gonzalez], they are an inspiration for me,” said Grudzielanek, who had entered the game with an impressive .333 batting average. “We all get along. When you see that, it lifts me up. I want go out and contribute right away.”11
Right-hander Alan Benes took over for Wood and tossed three scoreless innings. The Cubs tacked on their final run in the bottom of the eighth when Ramon Martinez drove in O’Leary on a double to left field off reliever Felix Heredia.
The Cubs’ 16 runs (on 16 hits) meant they had outscored the Reds in the series, 40-19, tallying their most runs in a four-game set against the longtime NL foes since they pushed across 46 runs in 1894.12 “When you get that many hits, everyone is doing well,” said Baker. “Again, it was a total team thing.”13 Every Cubs starter got at least one hit with the exception of catcher Damian Miller.14 Offensive stars included Bellhorn, Grudzielanek, and Sosa with three RBIs each; Patterson scored three times. Wood, picking up the victory though he was far from his best, yielded five hits and three runs, and fanned just three in six innings.“We had a six-run lead, and in the fourth inning I didn’t stay aggressive,” he said. “I started getting a little wild, but we were far enough ahead where it didn’t hurt me too bad.”15
The victory gave the Cubs a 7-3 record on their opening homestand. “You want to establish that it’s difficult for someone else to win on your home turf,” said Baker exuding the kind of confidence that inspired his players.16 The Cubs’ third straight victory improved their record to 10-6, a symbolically noteworthy feat considering that the season before, it took them until May 3 to reach double digits in victories. Coming on the wave of their newfound success, this game revitalized and rejuvenated not only their fans, but the Cubs themselves. “It’s a great feeling to play like that in April,” Sosa remarked. “We know we have a chance to have a great year.”17
This game summary was the product of Prof. Wolf's seminar “
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also accessed Retrosheet.org, BaseballReference.com, and SABR.org.
1 Nancy Armour (Associated Press), “Chicago Smacks Cincinnati in 16-3 Win: Sosa, Wood, Choi, Grudzielanek Hit Home Runs in Cubs’ 3rd Straight Victory,” Journal-Courier (Jacksonville, Illinois), April 18, 2003: 19.
2 Mike Kiley, “A Little History Lesson – Cubs Awaken Ghosts of 1894 With Series-Ending Rout of Reds,” Chicago Sun-Times, April 18, 2003: 4,1.
3 Nancy Armour (Associated Press), “Wood Helps Cubs Defeat Reds With Bat,” Daily Republican-Register (Mount Carmel, Illinois), April 18, 2003: 5.
4 Paul Sullivan, “2 Windy City Blowouts; Wood, Sluggers Put Hurt on Reds; Cubs 16, Reds 3,” Chicago Tribune, April 18, 2003: 4, 1.
7 Armour, “Chicago Smacks Cincinnati.”
9 Paul Sullivan, “Wood: Pitching Staff Capable of Big Year,” Chicago Tribune, April 18, 2003: 5.
14 Armour, “Wood Helps Cubs Defeat Reds With Bat.”
16 Sullivan, “2 Windy City Blowouts.”