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Sweet Home Chicago:

The 2003 World Series


By Chris Oakley

Part 3



Summary: In the first two parts of this series we looked back at the 2003 Chicago Cubs’ surprising victory over the Florida Marlins in the National League Championship Series and their ‘03 World Series Game 1 battle with the New York Yankees. In this chapter, we’ll recap the events of Game 2.


George Steinbrenner, irascible at the best of times, was positively seething after the Yankees’ Game 1 defeat by Chicago. He’d been hoping to see the Bronx Bombers land the first blow in their ‘03 World Series confrontation with the Cubs and Roger Clemens, who had previously made  the decision to retire from the majors after the Series was over, go out in a blaze of glory in the final playoff run of his career-- but what Steinbrenner had gotten instead was the Yanks dropped into an 0-1 hole and Clemens’ reputation as a postseason choker apparently carved in stone.

His manager, Joe Torre, wasn’t much happier with the way things had turned out; winning the Series would have been hard enough if the Yanks had succeeded in taking the first game, but with New York now trailing Chicago getting that much-sought after 27th world championship promised to be a task of Herculean proportions for the Pinstripes. It was like a baseball version of Murphy’s Law was starting to be played out at the House That Ruth Built-- anything which could go wrong, was going wrong, at least as far as New York was concerned. The Yankees’ normally devastating bats had been as quiet as a mausoleum in Game 1 and their pitching arms had collapsed like a straw house in a typhoon under the pressure of Chicago hitting.

To try and turn the tide of the series back in the Yanks’ favor, Torre chose lefthander and future Houston Astro Andy Petitte as his Game 2 starting pitcher; the Cubs countered with Carlos Zambrano, the man who’d clinched their NLCS triumph over the Florida Marlins. Fans across America were bracing themselves for what promised to be one of the greatest pitching duels of the decade....


The Bronx Bombers took the field for Game 2 of the 2003 World Series with just one thing on their minds: redemption. They were still stung by their Game 1 debacle, and they desperately wanted to wipe away that sting with a victory. Hideki Matsui in particular was embarrassed by his inability to get any hits in Game 1-- so much so that he’d almost skipped out on the post-game press conference that night. It had taken a fair amount of persuasion from his teammates to convince Matusi not to bail out on the Game 1 press confab, and as the man fans nicknamed "Godzilla" went through his pre-game warm-ups for Game 2 he was still looking a bit ill at ease whenever a reporter approached him. Matusi wasn’t the only one who’d caught a case of press shyness; even Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who normally gravitated to a microphone or camera like an ant to a picnic basket, had been somewhat reluctant to talk to the media after the Yanks’ Game 1 thrashing by Chicago. The atmosphere around the Yankee dugout was unbearably tense in the final moments before Cubs center fielder Kenny Lofton came to the plate to face the opening pitch of Game 2 of the ’03 World Series. There was a deep foreboding things were about to go very wrong, very fast-- and sure enough Lofton promptly slammed the second pitch of the game to right field for a stand-up double.

Lofton then advanced to third on a bloop single by third baseman Mark Grudzielanek. In spite of his advancing years and declining speed the Chicago outfielder found himself starting to think about trying to make one of the riskiest and most spectacular plays in baseball-- a steal of home plate. As it turned out, though, it was a gamble Lofton wouldn’t need to take; he ended up scoring the first run of the game on a wild pitch by Pettite. As Lofton loped back to the Cubs dugout to accept congrats and high-fives from his teammates, the Yankee Stadium crowd fell into a grim silence that quickly gave way to an avalanche of boos directed mainly at Pettite and Yankees catcher Jorge Posada. Joe Torre didn’t emerge entirely unscathed from the barrage of taunts either; when he stepped onto the mound for a quick conference with his starting pitcher and catcher, he practically had to yell at the top of his lungs to be heard over the catcalls being aimed his way. One less-than-civil bleacher denizen even went so far as to question the Yankee skipper’s maternal descent.

Grudzielanek himself scored later in the inning on a double by Sammy Sosa, and before the Bronx Bombers or their fans knew it, an already lousy situation had gotten ten times worse. An unlucky Andy Pettite would barely make it to the first out of the second inning before being pulled from the game with the Yankees trailing Chicago 4-1. What many Yankee fans had hoped would be a night for the Bronx Bombers to turn their fortunes around and even up the Series before heading to Chicago for Game 3 was instead metamorphing into one of the most humiliating collapses in the franchise’s history-- possibly even the history of Major League Baseball.

In the bottom of the sixth inning the Yanks got runners on second and third with one out and seemed to be poised to cut into the Cubs’ three-run lead. But once again, disaster struck. Carlos Zambrano struck out Aaron Boone, then retired Derek Jeter on a force play to end the inning. An almost funereal silence descended on the House That Ruth Built; even the most unruly boo-birds couldn’t seem to muster the energy to say anything about the apparent disintegration of the Pinstripes in the face of the Cubs’ relentless attack. In the press boxes, sports correspondents for New York’s major TV and print news outlets were preparing to issue scathing indictments of the Bronx Bombers’ less-than-stellar performance. Down on the Yankee bench Andy Pettite could only sit and watch as his teammate, Mariano Rivera, tried to keep the gap between Chicago and New York on the scoreboard from turning into a chasm.


But things didn’t work out the way Rivera, Pettite, or Yankee fans hoped they would; Paul Bako, the catcher whose third inning double had paved the way for the Cubs’ Game 1 victory, put Game 2 out of New York’s reach with an eighth inning grand slam which streaked like a bullet into Yankee Stadium’s upper deck. Left-handed relief pitcher Mark Guthrie took over for Carlos Zambrano in the ninth and struck out the side, sealing the Cubs’ 8-1 win and giving them a 2 games-to-0 edge on the Yankees as the World Series moved to Wrigley Field for Game 3. New York fans hoped the Pinstripes could turn things around, because the thought of what might happen if they couldn’t was almost unbearable....


To Be Continued


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