This article was written by John DiFonzo
Florida Marlins closer Ugueth Urbina, right, and catcher Ivan Rodriguez celebrate winning the National League pennant on October 15, 2003, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (MLB.COM)
The Chicago Cubs had not won a World Series since 1908 and their last appearance was 1945. They upset the Atlanta Braves in the division series, their first postseason-series victory since 1908. The Cubs had a 3-games-to-1 lead in the National League Championship Series over the Florida Marlins. The Marlins were an expansion team in 1993, had won the 1997 World Series, and were back in the playoffs for their second time. The Marlins were only the fourth team out of 25 since 1985 to come back and win an LCS trailing three games to one. The Marlins won the last two games in Wrigley Field and defeated a pair of young aces, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. They went on to win the 2003 World Series.
The Marlins seized the momentum in the Series after being down three games to one. They took Game Five behind a brilliant two-hit complete game by 23-year-old rookie Josh Beckett on 115 pitches. The Marlins took Game Six after trailing, 3-0, in the top of the eighth inning and the Cubs were five defensive outs from the going to the World Series. The Marlins stunned the Cubs by rallying for eight runs. The comeback was punctuated by a possibly catchable foul ball that was deflected by a fan, Steve Bartman. That foiled a chance for Moises Alou to make a play and was followed by a costly error by shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Before the inning was over, eight runs scored. After the game, Cubs manager Dusty Baker was asked about the “billy goat curse” and denied any connection, “It has nothing to do with the curse.”1 The Marlins were feeling overlooked, Juan Pierre said, adding, “You feel like everybody’s against you. I would say 97 percent of the world probably wants … to see the Cubs and Red Sox in it.”2
Wood was the Game Seven starter for the Cubs. The 26-year-old right-hander was 14-11 and struck out a league-high 266 batters while walking 100 in 211 innings. Wood won five of his previous seven starts, including two in the postseason. Wood relied mainly on the fastball and slider. The Marlins countered with left-hander Mark Redman, more of a nibbler who threw the changeup and curveball. Redman had pitched well in the postseason with no-decisions in both of his starts.
The crowd at Wrigley was raucous early on, but the Marlins struck first. Pierre led off the top of the first inning with a triple to right field that was aided when Sammy Sosa slipped and fell while chasing the ball. After a one-out walk to Ivan Rodriguez, 20-year-old Marlins rookie Miguel Cabrera silenced the crowd by golfing a low 1-and-2 fastball into the left-center-field bleachers for a three-run home run. Wood said, “To me, it’s a pitch he shouldn’t hit.”3 Cabrera began his career as a shortstop, but after making 32 errors in 2001 for the Class-A Kane County Cougars was converted to a third baseman. Recently he had moved to the outfield because Mike Lowell was the Marlins’ everyday third baseman. Cabrera was starting his fourth game of the Series in right field and would make several solid defensive plays during the game. The home run was his third of the series, a new LCS record for a rookie.4
Aramis Ramirez led off the bottom of the second inning and hit a foul ball down the left-field line, close to the location of the controversial Game Six foul ball. The Fox broadcast team recalled the events of Game Six and were sympathetic to Bartman, showing on a replay that other fans had reached for the ball. Bartman had to be escorted out of the stadium because of the unruly crowd. Because of overwhelming negative fan reaction, Bartman could not go to work and the news media was camped outside his home. His phone was disconnected. A statement from Bartman shown on the broadcast closed with an apology, “I am so truly sorry from the bottom of this Cubs fan’s broken heart.”5
The Cubs battled back against Redman in the bottom of the second inning. Eric Karros singled to right field, and Gonzalez doubled to center. Damian Miller grounded out to score Karros. Pitcher Wood hit a 3-and-2 pitch for a two-run home run to tie the game at 3-3, and the crowd roared back to life. “It was the loudest I ever heard it,” Wood said years later.6 Kenny Lofton stepped out of the batter’s box to allow the crowd to give Wood an extended ovation.7
In the bottom of the third, the Cubs struck again. After Redman hit Sosa, Alou gave the Cubs a 5-3 lead by hitting a home run over the left-field wall onto Waveland Avenue, where a huge crowd of Cubs fans had gathered. The man who caught Alou’s home-run ball was removed for his own security.
Wood had trouble controlling his slider in the bottom of the fifth, and walked two batters. With one out, Rodriguez extended his postseason hitting streak to 11 with a double to left to bring the Marlins within one run, 5-4. Cabrera drove in the next run on a fielder’s choice and Derrek Lee knocked in Rodriguez with a single to right to put the Marlins back in the lead, 6-5. Wrigley grew silent. “That was the most eerie part about it,” Wood said. “You could hear conversations on the field — guys were yelling and you could hear every word they were saying to each other. In a matter of two hours, it was the loudest I’ve ever heard it and the quietest I ever heard it.”8
In the top of the sixth, the Marlins’ Jeff Conine led off with a single and went to third on a single by Pierre with two out. Wood was through after throwing 112 pitches and was replaced by Kyle Farnsworth. “You’ve got to understand, about 30 minutes ago, I choked. I let my teammates down, I let the organization down and I let the city of Chicago down,” Wood said after the game. “They hit the ball. They put the ball in play. I didn’t have my good slider. They put together good at-bats all night. I don’t know how many two-strike foul balls they hit this series. They don’t give up and they don’t give in.”9 Farnsworth gave up a single to Luis Castillo and the Marlins increased their lead to 7-5. It was only the third time all season that Wood gave up seven runs in a game and three of the four batters he walked scored.10
In the top of the seventh, the Marlins had two on and two out and Baker went to his bullpen to bring in Dave Veres to face Alex Gonzalez11 even though Beckett was on deck. Gonzalez was 0-for-10 against Veres but had success against Farnsworth. The strategy backfired as Gonzalez hit a broken-bat double to center to extend the Marlins’ lead to 9-5.
A sense of desperation was starting to take hold in Wrigley. As is traditional, during the seventh-inning stretch, the crowd was led by someone singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Game Seven’s honor went to Billy Corgan, lead singer of the Smashing Pumpkins. After he finished he implored the Cubs, “Let’s get some runs!”
Beckett had replaced Brad Penny to start the fifth inning. He was pitching on two days’ rest and the only blemish in his four innings pitched came in the Cubs’ seventh, with Troy O’Leary’s pinch-hit home run. It was the 23rd home run of the series, setting an NLCS record.12 After Beckett had allowed four runs in the first inning of Game One of the series, he allowed only three runs in his last 18⅓ innings, retiring 39 of the last 43 batters he faced.
That would be all of the scoring in the game. The Cubs could manage only one baserunner in the final two innings. Ivan Rodriguez knocked in an NLCS record 10 RBIs13 and was named the series MVP. Jack McKeon, at age 72, became the oldest manager to reach the World Series for the first time. The Marlins had never lost a postseason elimination game or series. The Cubs had won just one postseason series in the previous 95 years. Baker gave his assessment after the game: “We didn’t lose the pennant, the Marlins won it.”14 Baker added, “What hurt was the fact that they got three or four two-out RBI hits and we couldn’t stop them from adding on in the end.”15
There would be no Cubs-Red Sox World Series. The following evening, the other cursed team would lose Game Seven of the ALCS in heartbreaking fashion to their archrival Yankees. One newspaper summed it up for the Cubs, “Last World Series appearance: 1945. The Billy Goat Curse. And now Bartman.”16
This article appears in “Wrigley Field: The Friendly Confines at Clark and Addison” (SABR, 2019), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. To read more stories from this book online, click here.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also used the Baseball-Reference.com, and Retrosheet.org Fox telecast available on youtube.com: (youtube.com/watch?v=2laVtbFFIGw).
1 Paul Sullivan and John Mullin, “Baker: Tough Luck Little to Do With Curse,” Chicago Tribune, October 15, 2003, articles.chicagotribune.com/2003-10-16/sports/0310160327_1_big-game-ordinary-game-rebound-from-tough-losses. Accessed August27, 2017.
2 John Mullin, “Being Written Off Rankles Marlins,” Chicago Tribune, October 15, 2003, articles.chicagotribune.com/2003-10-15/sports/0310150239_1_cubs-marlins-game-florida-marlins-mike-mordecai Accessed August 27, 2017.
3 Melissa Isaacson and Bonnie DeSimone, “Wood: I Choked, Let the City Down,” Chicago Tribune, October 16, 2003, articles.chicagotribune.com/2003-10-16/sports/0310160341_1_bottom-line-matt-clement-marlins. Accessed August 26, 2017.
4 This record stood as of the 2016 playoffs.
5 Associated Press, “Statement From Cubs Fan Steve Bartman,” October 15, 2003, foxnews.com/story/2003/10/15/statement-from-cubs-fan-steve-bartman.html. Accessed August 26, 2017. The full statement read:
There are few words to describe how awful I feel and what I have experienced within these last 24 hours.
I’ve been a Cub fan all my life and fully understand the relationship between my actions and the outcome of the game. I had my eyes glued on the approaching ball the entire time and was so caught up in the moment that I did not even see Moises Alou, much less that he may have had a play.
Had I thought for one second that the ball was playable or had I seen Alou approaching I would have done whatever I could to get out of the way and give Alou a chance to make the catch.
To Moises Alou, the Chicago Cubs organization, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, and Cub fans everywhere I am so truly sorry from the bottom of this Cubs fan’s broken heart.
I ask that Cub fans everywhere redirect the negative energy that has been vented towards my family, my friends, and myself into the usual positive support for our beloved team on their way to being National League champs.”
9 Isaacson and DeSimone.
10 Isaacson and DeSimone.
11 Both teams had a shortstop named Alex Gonzalez. The Cubs’ Alex Gonzalez was born in Miami on April 8, 1973, and played in the major-leagues from 1994 to 2006. The Marlins’ Alex Gonzalez was born in Cagua, Venezuela, on February 15, 1977, and played in the major leagues from 1998 to 2014.
12 This record was broken in the 2004 NLCS between the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros, who combined to club 25 home runs in their seven-game series.
13 As of the 2016 postseason, this record still stood.
14 Rick Morrissey, “Game 6 Collapse Will Define This Team,” Chicago Tribune, October 16, 2003, articles.chicagotribune.com/2003-10-16/sports/0310160345_1_cubs-marlins-eighth-inning-error. Accessed August 26, 2017.
15 Isaacson and DeSimone.
16 Adam Rubin, “It’s a Cruel Choke: Cubs Lose Game 7, Curse Lives On, Fish Win NLCS,” New York Daily News, October 16, 2003, https://nydailynews.com/archives/sports/cruel-choke-cubs-lose-game-7-curse-lives-fish-win-nlcs-article-1.520897. Accessed August 26, 2017.