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Eighth inning was one that got away
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10/14/2003 11:27 PM ET 
Eighth inning was one that got away
Cubs were up 3-0 and five outs away from win
tickets for any Major League Baseball game
Cubs fan Jim Baumer sits dejectedly in the stands after Chicago lost to the Marlins, 8-3, in Game 6 of the NLCS at Wrigley Field. (Brian Kersey/AP)
CHICAGO -- It is never, ever easy for the Cubs. First, one of their own fans. Then, their best defensive infielder. If it seemed Tuesday night as though they were playing against more than just the Marlins, that's because they were.

A fan interfered with what looked like an easy catch for Moises Alou with one out in the eighth inning, as Chicago stood five outs from its first World Series trip in 58 years. In another city, with another team, you might have just laughed it off. Here, they know better. Even with a three-run lead, the National League's best pitcher on the mound and a bullpen fully rested, a festive crowd of 39,577 started getting nervous.

They knew, even if the players didn't. And they were right.

"That's a runner on second, one out," said Alou. "The tying run is still in the on-deck circle. And we've got (Mark) Prior, man."

    Mark Prior   /   P
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 220
Bats/Throws: R/R

More info:
Player page
Stats
Splits
Cubs site

But Prior was clearly frustrated, and he didn't shut the door. After the fan bailed out Luis Castillo, the speedy second baseman drew a walk on the next pitch -- as ball four got away from catcher Paul Bako. Juan Pierre, who had doubled one batter earlier, advanced from second to third. Runners on the corners, one out. Still, it should have been in hand.

But it wasn't.

Ivan Rodriguez fell behind 0-2 ... then he singled in the first Marlins run after 7 1/3 innings of dominance from Prior. The inning wasn't spiraling yet, but it was turning. Fans started thinking about curses, and goats, and Leon Durham's error in 1984, and all the other painful moments before this one.

And the Cubs still had a chance to get out of it. They expected to get out of it.

    Moises Alou   /   LF
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 195
Bats/Throws: R/R

More info:
Player page
Stats
Hit chart
Cubs site

"I'm not a Cub fan," said Alou. "I'm a Cub player, and I don't believe in all that crap."

He should have been right. With runners on first and second, one out and a two-run Chicago lead, Miguel Cabrera hit a first-pitch grounder to slick-fielding shortstop Alex Gonzalez. It was a potential double-play ball, and an almost-certain force out. And Gonzalez booted it. Not two outs. Not even one. Everyone was safe.

The murmurs grew louder, and nervousness gave way to all-out fear. This would not end well, not for the Cubs.

"It seemed like there was a few things that went wrong. They got some momentum and just kept going," Gonzalez said.

    Alex Gonzalez   /   SS
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 195
Bats/Throws: R/R

More info:
Player page
Stats
Splits
Hit chart
Cubs site

Derrek Lee proved the fans right. He roped a two-run double to left, tying the game. Prior was done. Suddenly it was simply a question of how bad it would get. And it got very bad.

"Gonzo, he's only made 10 errors all year long, that's the stunning part, because he doesn't miss anything," manager Dusty Baker said. "And then after that we couldn't stop the bleeding. They just started hitting the ball all over everywhere."

Baker called on his right-handed setup man, Kyle Farnsworth, but had Farnsworth issue an intentional walk to Mike Lowell. Jeff Conine's sacrifice fly -- which should have been at least the third out, if not the fourth or fifth -- added another run. Another intentional walk put Todd Hollandsworth on base, but Mike Mordecai made Chicago pay with a bases-clearing double. A Pierre single capped the outburst before Castillo finally popped up.

Eight runs. Nearly 40,000 hearts broken at Wrigley Field.

But don't talk about curses to these Cubs. They're more interested in "Dustiny" than Durham.

"It has nothing to do with the curse," Baker said. "It has to do with the fan interference, the very uncharacteristic error by Gonzo, because he doesn't miss anything. And then they just started hitting. It has nothing to do with the curse, it has to do with their bats.

"History had nothing to do with this game, nothing."

But if the Cubs don't turn it around Wednesday, and win Game 7, history will definitely remember this game.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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