10/16/2003 3:31 AM ET
Game 7 caps amazing NLCS
Momentum swings back and forth, emotions high, low
Get your Marlins NL championship gear
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- The lasting image of one of the greatest National League Championship Series you will ever see might have been the final one.
A Wrigley Field crowd that had waited and waited stood and watched in complete and eerie silence for 20 seconds as black-clad opponents from Florida ran loose on their infield in triumphant glory, jumping on each other in scattered piles. It was like a movie without sound. Then, in a moving scene, applause began to fill the chilly night air and a chant began: "Cubbies! Cubbies!" in proud defiance.
Such an emotional swing, followed by a rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" over the loudspeakers, seemed the appropriate conclusion Wednesday after the Marlins ended the Cubs' hopes with a 9-6 victory in Game 7. Starting with Game 1, when the Cubs jumped out to a 4-0 lead and saw Florida go ahead two innings later, the 2003 NLCS ebbed and flowed, no moment ever certain until the last one.
In Game 7, the lead changed hands three times in the first five innings. The Marlins led last, and all of those emotional swings took their toll. You saw tired faces, way past the disbelief of Tuesday night, from the Cubs' players and their fans. You saw something bordering on slap-happy in the Marlins' clubhouse, as Juan Pierre and Dontrelle Willis danced together amid the hip-hop din. The fight was over. The Cubs and those go-anywhere fans were close ... but Jack McKeon's cigar.
Here, one last time, were the amazing twists and turns:
Wood giveth: Marlins 3, Cubs 0 ( 56K | 300K)
Nearly recovered from what happened the night before, a crowd of 39,574 brought the same energy to the first inning of Game 7. Then, right away, Pierre hushed them with a triple to right as Sammy Sosa slipped on the muddy warning track.
They roared when Moises Alou made a sliding catch in Luis Castillo's next at-bat, they groaned when Ivan Rodriguez worked Kerry Wood for a nine-pitch walk, and they fell collectively and positively ill when rookie Miguel Cabrera powered a ball onto Waveland Avenue for a quick 3-0 lead. The curse had not gone away.
"Give them credit, [Miguel Cabrera] hit a home run on a pitch that he shouldn't have," Wood said. "I felt like I hit his bat."
Wood taketh: Cubs 5, Marlins 3 ( 56K | 300K)
Eric Karros hit a one-out single in the second, moved to third on Alex Gonzalez's double, and then scored on Damian Miller's groundout to third. It was 3-1. Two out and the pitcher up to bat, a perfect scenario for Florida starter Mark Redman. Only this was not an ordinary series or an ordinary game. Wood took that lead right back by homering to left and tying the score, evoking images of the previous Atlanta series.
"Sitting on the bench," Willis said later, "we looked at that as, 'It's zero-zero again.' That's the way we always look at it."
Wood's home run brought life back to the home team. Sosa was hit by a pitch in the third inning. Then Alou, exorcizing the demons from a night before, when the fan stole his catch on a foul ball, crushed a two-run homer and the Cubs had a 5-3 lead. Thoughts of a tremendous celebration returned. Briefly.
"When [Wood] hit the home run and we went up 5 to 3, I knew the next inning was going to be a tough inning," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "Our guys battled and fought, like I have nothing bad to say about our guys, because we came from a mighty long ways to get to this point."
That was the last time the Chicago Cubs would lead a game in 2003.
Trouble in paradise: Marlins 6, Cubs 5 ( 56K | 300K)
The Cubs could not have been lined up better to go to their first World Series since 1945. They had a 3-1 series lead, and even after losing to Josh Beckett on Sunday they knew that Florida would have to go through Mark Prior and Wood to advance, and nearly everyone expected bedlam in Wrigleyville. They beat Prior, unthinkable enough, and in the fifth inning they got to Wood again.
Brian Banks pinch-hit and led off with a walk, and Castillo did the same after a Pierre flyout to center. Then series MVP Rodriguez did it yet again, singling in Banks to make it 5-4 and advancing Castillo to third. Cabrera grounded out to first, and suddenly the game was tied again. No matter what the Cubs did, the Marlins always seemed to have an answer. Derrek Lee, resurgent in the last two games, singled in Rodriguez and now the Marlins were ahead to stay, 6-5.
Florida added two more runs over the next inning, Beckett picked up where he left off Sunday, and Chicago tried to mount one last run with a Troy O'Leary solo homer in the seventh but it was not enough. Final score: 9-6.
"They hit the ball -- they put the ball in play and made something happen," Wood said of the Marlins. "Down by two runs, they had some great at-bats and they didn't give up."
It was a series filled with offensive records, including: the most combined homers in any LCS (23), and the most combined hits (133) and extra-base hits (52) and runs (82) in any NLCS. It was played in front of nearly 200,000 fans in the three games in Florida and the usual overflow crowds at Wrigley. It ended with one of the most spectacular comebacks in LCS history, and it went the distance with constant ups and downs.
After it was over, everyone was saying basically the same thing in their own ways:
Lee: "It was just a battlefield. I tip my cap to Dusty and those guys. They gave everything they had."
Cubs closer Joe Borowski: "I think two teams went up against each other and never quit. In a seven-game series, they played better than us. We were up, 3-1, and they never quit."
Alou: "That [Florida] team really battled. In the whole series, no lead was a safe lead. That's a team that had some momentum going."
Baker: "The way the game was, you can't trade runs with them. You've got to give them credit. They hit us and they played a great series."
Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell: "This might have been one of the best NLCS series ever, and if it was, then I'm glad to have been part of it. We had a big uphill climb, not just this series but all year. The way we won this final game is a great example."
McKeon: "We went out there tonight, both clubs, and they were hoping, we were hoping, that we would get a break or two, get good pitching or get a key hit to win the series and get to the World Series. And I know they were going through the same thing. Two great clubs played there. I thought they [Cubs] played an outstanding series. I thought it was exciting. I think the television ratings will show you that."
In the end, there was no joy in Wrigleyville. After that 20-second silence during Florida's field celebration, after those chants of "Cubbies! Cubbies!" people began to head for the exits. Suddenly, one fan yelled at the top of his lungs:
"Next year, Cubbies!"
Mark Newman is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.