10/15/2003 1:35 AM ET
Marlins capitalized in The Inning
CHICAGO -- Wednesday night's seventh game of the National League Championship Series will decide who goes to the World Series, and that is not all. It also will decide whether the eighth inning of Game 6 will be remembered in Chicago Cubs history for only 24 hours as a delay ... or forever as The Inning.
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
Twelve Marlins batted and matched a franchise record for an inning with eight runs, leading to an 8-3 victory that evened the NLCS at 3-3. It was the inning of The Fan and Gonzo's Boot -- the kind of development that Cubs fans thought they had relegated to the past along with the Curse of the Billy Goat.
"I never saw an inning in the playoffs like that," said 72-year-old Marlins manager Jack McKeon, who has been in baseball for more than half a century. McKeon would not credit a hand -- literally -- a fan may have had for his club's most dramatic postseason comeback yet. "It's baseball and things like that happen once in a while. And you'll probably see it again in your lifetime."
Utterly shocked Cub fans, many of whom already were running giddily for the aisles and toward a mounting celebration scene outside Wrigley Field, watched as the Marlins did the impossible. Here is an anatomy of The Inning:
It was just last October that Dusty Baker's San Francisco Giants were six outs from winning a Game 6 that would give them the World Series. The Angels had the Rally Monkey and Scott Spiezio -- and they won it all in seven.
Now Baker's Cubs were five outs away, and Mark Prior was pitching with a 3-0 lead and getting stronger by the minute. He retired Mike Mordecai on a flyout to left for the first out of the eighth, and that made it eight consecutive batters retired by Prior. Even when Juan Pierre came up next and doubled, the only question seemed to be whether Prior was going to be on the mound when the Cubs clinched their first World Series berth since 1945 or whether it would be closer Joe Borowski.
Then Luis Castillo followed. He had been 1-for-3 against Prior Tuesday night, and he worked the count full. Many fans were standing as Prior delivered, still with the expectation that they were going to Game 1 at either Yankee Stadium or Fenwark Park. It was nearing the moment Cub fans had awaited practically forever, and how nice it would be to catch a foul ball as a souvenir of this historic occasion. ...
The Fan: 56K | 300K
Castillo, a switch-hitter batting from the left side against the right-hander, slashed a ball toward the left-field foul line. Moises Alou raced toward the stands, timed it perfectly, and reached up the brick wall for a catch that would have put the Cubs within four outs of the World Series. Just then, one of the 39,577 fans in attendance -- indeed, one too many in the view of many peers -- reached out to steal the ball away.
There are six umpires at this stage of a postseason, and left-field umpire Mike Everitt, working his second LCS, was on top of the play to deem Castillo's foul out of play. Had the fan reached over the wall and into the field of play, it would have been ruled fan interference and Castillo would have been out on the play.
Alou will never sign that baseball. He reacted in disbelief, as did Prior on the mound. Castillo was given a second chance. Prior, perhaps losing his concentration, went on to walk Castillo in a nine-pitch at-bat. Pierre moved to third on a wild pitch during the at-bat. Florida suddenly had men on the corners with one out, a fan had what could be a legendary souvenir, and the postgame interviews had a hot topic.
"The only words I have is, maybe he was a Marlins fan," Baker said. "That's the only thing I can come up with." Asked if he can understand why home fans sometimes steal an out from their own team's fielders, Baker added, "No. I've never understood that. And I probably never will. I don't know if it's a natural reaction to try to catch the ball, but if you're for your team, you have to give your player every opportunity and chance to catch the ball. I talked to Mo [Alou], he said he timed it perfectly, he was right there, and all of a sudden the ball was gone."
McKeon repeatedly rebuffed questions about the importance of The Fan. "What was the problem with that?" he said. "No, the ball was in the stands. The umpire saw that. He was right there. ... Whether Alou could have caught it is questionable, but the ball was in the stands. And when the ball is in the stands, the fans have a right to catch it. I didn't think there was any interference, from our angle. We have a pretty good angle. But the umpire, you have to give him credit, he was standing right there and he called it into the stands immediately. So I don't think that was the turning point of the game."
Cub fans will disagree vehemently, and especially if Florida wins Game 7.
Gonzo's Boot: 56K | 300K
With runners at the corners and still one out, postseason terror Ivan Rodriguez stepped into the batter's box and was quickly down 0-and-2 with a foul and a swinging strike. Then Prior lost his shutout as Rodriguez came through again with a single to left that scored Pierre. Castillo moved to second. It was 3-1.
Fans were still buzzing about The Fan, and perhaps now more nervous than they had been at any time during Prior's dominating performance. Decades of torment then seemed to enter the equation. Miguel Cabrera swung on the first pitch, hitting a routine grounder to short that took the kind of hop you live for if you are a youth baseball player on a rock-strewn infield. Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who committed only 10 errors all season and has had a brilliant NLCS, went to backhand it and the ball somehow hit the heel of his glove and dribbled away. The bases were loaded, E-6.
"We had Pudge 0-and-2, and then he gets a hit, and then we thought we had a ground ball double play, because Gonzo ... that's the stunning part, because he doesn't miss anything," Baker said. "And then after that we couldn't stop the bleeding. They just started hitting the ball all over everywhere."
Derrek Lee had homered off Prior to break up the Cub's shutout in Game 2, and after three frustrating at-bats against him in this game they now met again. Like Cabrera, Lee swung at the first offering, and he ripped a double to left field that brought home Castillo and Rodriguez to tie the score and shock the masses.
"It felt great," Lee said. "My team has been picking me up. And I finally had a chance to pick them up."
Prior was replaced by Kyle Farnsworth. The star's night, and his chance to celebrate a pennant on the mound, was over. Only Wednesday night will tell whether his brilliant season is over as well. Had Prior been rattled by The Fan and Gonzo's Boot?
"No," Baker insisted. "I mean, he settled down after that. He had Pudge 0-and-2 and got a breaking ball over too much of the plate, and Pudge can hit. You've got to give Pudge credit. And the next play Cabrera, he hit a ground ball, and I thought we were out of the inning at that point. And we were going to turn it over to Borowski because I thought [Prior] was getting close to his limit. And he had gotten Lee out pretty well and (Kyle) Farnsworth was warming up."
Farnsworth intentionally walked Mike Lowell to load the bases. Jeff Conine, the original Marlin who had just homered in Florida's Game 5 victory Sunday, swung on the first pitch -- the third consecutive Marlin to do so (excluding the intentional walk). Sammy Sosa caught it for the out, but it was too deep to prevent Cabrera from scoring with what would be the winning run.
Runners had advanced, so Farnsworth again had to intentionally walk a batter to load the bases: pinch-hitter Todd Hollandsworth. The Marlins now had batted around, and this time Mordecai ensured that there would be a Game 7, clearing the bases with a double to make it 7-3. Pierre knocked him in with a single to finish the scoring, and Castillo -- whose foul had started the wild turn of events -- ended The Inning by popping out to second.
It was the ninth time in Marlins franchise history that they have scored eight runs in an inning, last accomplished July 25 of this season against the Phillies. It was the first time they had done it in a postseason. The St. Louis Cardinals scored an NLCS-record nine runs in the second inning on Oct. 13, 1985, against Los Angeles -- and the next night, Ozzie Smith would hit a homer off Tom Niedenfuer that every Cards fan would go crazy about for years to come.
The only thing that remains now is whether Marlins fans will have the same kind of memory to cherish forever and one that every Cubs fan will talk about when they continue to think about next year. Or whether The Inning will be something they can easily forget with a victory in Game 7 at the Friendly Confines.
"You're basically giving a Major League team five outs in an inning, and that's almost two innings worth of outs," Mordecai said. "And you just can't do that at this stage of the game. We take advantage of everything. And we did."
Mark Newman is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.