Sweet Home Chicago:
The 2003 World Series
By Chris Oakley
Summary: In Part 1 of this series we reviewed the Chicago Cubs’ improbable triumph over the Florida Marlins in the 2003 National League Championship Series. In this chapter, we’ll look back at the first game of the Cubs’ 2003 World Series showdown with the New York Yankees.
The Yankees hadn’t won the World Series in nearly three years when the Cubs showed up for the opening game of their 2003 Series clash with the Bronx Bombers. After thrashing their cross-town competitors the Mets in the Fall Classic back in 2000, the Yanks found themselves hitting the wall time and again in their efforts to win a 27th World Series championship; in fact, when the first pitch of the 2003 World Series was thrown, the Pinstripes were still smarting from the memory of their 2002 AL divisional playoffs upset loss at the hands of the normally unlucky Anaheim Angels. Before that, New York had seen what looked like a sure victory in the 2001 World Series snatched away by a 9th inning single from Luis Gonzalez of the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 7.
So naturally New York was looking for some major karmic payback. One Yankee particularly eager to beat the Cubs was pitching ace Roger Clemens, then wrapping up his 19th season in the majors and his fourth with the Bronx Bombers, was hoping to finally end a long-standing and unfortunate reputation for postseason mediocrity he’d acquired during the previous eighteen seasons. His erratic performances in previous playoff starts had derailed Boston’s 1986 World Series bid and given Yankee manager Joe Torre endless grief during New York’s 1999 and 2000 Series championship campaigns.
Clemens himself wasn’t too happy about those performances either. He took to the mound at Yankee Stadium bent on shutting down Chicago’s starting lineup...
....and for the first two innings it seemed like he would get his way. Clemens struck out five of the first six batters he faced in Game 1 and retired the sixth on a grounder to Yanks shortstop Derek Jeter. The third inning seemed to promise more of the same as the Rocket got two more strikeouts. But with two outs and a 3-2 pitch count on Cubs catcher Paul Bako, Clemens saw his game and season begin to unravel like a ball of yarn. Bako fouled off three pitches in a row before he doubled to straightaway center; a wild pitch allowed him to advance to third, causing an understandably agitated Joe Torre to start pacing in the Yankees dugout. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was doing a lot of pacing himself in his luxury box while at the same time grumbling to his general manager, Brian Cashman, about how seriously things were going wrong for New York. The Boss would have even more reasons to be grumbling before the inning was over...
....because on a 3-2 fastball Cubs first baseman Eric Karros hit a wicked line drive to center that allowed Bako to score the first run of the game. Later in the inning, Karros would himself score on a wild pitch by Clemens; the second Karros’ feet touched home plate, Yankees fans let Clemens have it with both barrels, unleashing a torrent of catcalls and boos on the Rocket loud enough to rattle the cables off the Brooklyn Bridge. Out in the Yankee bullpen, relief pitcher Mariano Rivera started warming up in anticipation that he might be called out to replace Clemens before the inning was over.
He was right-- just a few minutes after beginning his warmup routine, Rivera got the word that Clemens was being pulled with the Yankees trailing 4-0 and the Cubs threatening to score yet again. Rivera struck out Chicago center fielder Corey Patterson to finally wrap up the third inning, then retired the side in the fourth inning to give the Bronx Bombers a chance to erase the goose egg that hung there tauntingly on the scoreboard.
Unfortunately for Pinstripes fans, the goose egg stuck around for the top of the fifth inning. Hideki Matsui, the left fielder who’d been brought over from Japan to add some punch to the Yankees’ hitting attack, whiffed on three straight fastballs; catcher Jorge Posada was retired on a grounder to shortstop Alex Gonzalez; and DH Jason Giambi hit a weak pop fly to center to end the fourth. The already foul mood in the New York dugout was starting to turn uglier than a Manhattan society divorce-- but it was ebullient compared to the simmering anger coursing through the hearts of Yankee fans as they watched their team struggle against an opponent that by all rights it should have been pounding into the dirt. NYPD riot control officers warily scanned the crowd for potential troublemakers.
It wasn’t until the bottom of the sixth that the Yankees finally managed to get on the scoreboard-- a double by New York centerfielder Bernie Williams that scored Derek Jeter from second base. And by then, Chicago was pretty much in the driver’s seat; they wouldn’t give up another run the rest of the night. In the eighth inning, they put the exclamation point on their drubbing of New York with a bases-loaded double by reserve infielder Ramon Martinez. Final score: Cubs 4, Yanks 1.
The headlines in the next day’s sports pages were a reflection of the sheer amazement among fans at the fact that baseball’s resident 800-pound gorilla had come out on the losing end of its first battle with the star-crossed Cubbies in the 2003 World Series. The New York Daily News famously summed up the mood among Yankee fans with the succinct(and somewhat off-color) back page inquiry "WHAT THE HELL?!", while the Chicago Sun-Times jubilantly proclaimed "CUBS GET LEG UP TO OPEN SERIES". The Internet was buzzing with an almost endless stream of commentary about how Chicago had managed to turn the tables on the Bronx Bombers; ESPN’s baseball section picked up so much traffic in the hours after the Cubs’ Game 1 victory that the entire ESPN website had to be taken offline for half a day for server repairs after the baseball page crashed.
Sports radio hosts in the Big Apple got an earful as upset Yanks fans picked up their phones to denounce what they saw as Joe Torre’s bungling of a golden chance to put Chicago in an 0-1 hole; some of those same callers also took the opportunity to accuse Roger Clemens of overindulging in alcohol or cocaine, barely suspecting Clemens’ actual indulgence was something far more detrimental than booze or coke to an athlete’s career. Even New York fan hero Derek Jeter took a few hits from the radio audience, getting heavily criticized for(in some callers’ minds at least) not doing more to help his team at the plate or on defense.
Unfortunately for the Pinstripes, things weren’t going to get any easier for them in Game 2...
To Be Continued