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Sweet Home Chicago:

The 2003 World Series


By Chris Oakley

Part 4




Summary: In the first three 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 and Game 2 battles with the New York Yankees. In this segment, we’ll look back the Game 3 collapse that pushed the Bronx Bombers to the verge of final defeat.


The demeanor of the World Series contestants as they stepped off their respective charter planes at O’Hare Airport a few days prior to Game 3 of the 2003 World Series was a portrait in contrasts. The Cubs players, while somewhat tired after a long flight home from New York, looked cheerful and energetic, while their Yankee counterparts could barely seem to manage to summon the energy to walk through the arrival gates to board the charter bus that would take them to the hotel where they’d be staying for the next two games of the Series. The script had been flipped and then some; the Bronx Bombers, who’d been expected to make short work of the Cubbies in the Fall Classic, now instead found themselves staring the possibility of defeat-- or even worse, getting swept by Chicago --smack in the face. The New York sporting media, not exactly known for its compassionate treatment of baseball managers who were down on their luck, was crucifying Yankee manager Joe Torre like he’d just confessed to plotting to blow up the Statue of Liberty. And Torre’s immediate superior, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, was hardly faring much better; no sooner had the last out of Game 2 been recorded by the umpires than irate Yanks fans started bombarding the home pages of the Post, the Daily News, the New York Times, and even the Wall Street Journal with e-mails demanding that Cashman resign his post immediately.

Chicago sportswriters, on the other hand, were talking up Dusty Baker like he was the second coming of John McGraw. With his Cubs in the surprising position of being two up on the Yankees in the World Series and having a shot at going ahead three games to none, Baker’s professional reputation-- which had taken something of a beating when he came out on the losing end of the 2002 World Series as skipper of the San Francisco Giants --was on the upswing again. For that matter, the entire Cubs franchise was enjoying a degree of respect it hadn’t known too often in its star-crossed history....certainly not for any extended length of time since 1945. The usual feelings of dread among Cubbies partisans were, for once, conspicuously absent.

The main hope for Cubs fans for winning Game 3 rested on the shoulders of relative newcomer and 20-game winner Kerry Wood, a right- hander who would be making his first-ever Series appearance when he took the mound to face the Pinstripes in what both sides knew going in was a make-or-break contest for New York. If the Yankees could turn their fortunes around and take Game 3, they might have a chance at sending the Series back to the Bronx for at least one more game-- but if the Cubs prevailed, the Bronx Bombers were effectively dead in the water. And if the Yanks lost the Series, the prospects of Torre losing his job would skyrocket like one of A-Rod’s home runs clearing Yankee Stadium’s outfield walls. Nor would anyone else’s job necessarily be safe, for that matter; in an ESPN interview the day after New York’s Game 2 defeat, Yanks owner George Steinbrenner had hinted he might be willing to at least consider a massive front office shakeup if Chicago took the Series.

Kerry Wood wanted to make sure a lot of people at Yankee Stadium got pink slips when the Series was over....


....but after Wood coughed up a double to Derek Jeter and an RBI double to Jason Giambi during the first inning of Game 3, it looked as if he might be the one getting a pink slip. The Yanks threatened to go ahead 2-0 on the Cubs after a triple by Bernie Williams; fortunately for Wood, Chicago’s infield bailed him out with a double play to end the inning. In the second inning, New York right fielder Karim Garcia reached first on a walk only to be picked off by Wood during an ill- advised attempt to steal second base. That blunder prompted New York fans to berate Garcia with every one of the seven words included on George Carlin’s infamous list-- plus a few Carlin had overlooked. The NYPD riot squad nearly had to be called into action to  keep things in the stands under control.

Things didn’t get much better for the Yankees in the third or fourth innings. For one Yankee, in fact, they were about to become exponentially worse: Aaron Boone tore an ACL in his left leg while sliding into second base during a "suicide squeeze" attempt with one out in the fourth inning and was effectively sidelined for Game 4 of the World Series. With Boone out of commission, the Bronx Bombers were dead in the water. His bat and his glove had helped save the 2003 ALCS for New York; when he had to be taken out of the lineup, he took with him the Yanks’ last chance to avert a sweep at Chicago’s hands.

In the fifth inning the Cubs poured salt on the Yankees’ already severe wounds. Starting with a walk to Mark Grudzielanek and finishing with a solo blast to right by Alex Gonzalez, Chicago inflicted a half-dozen unanswered runs on the staggering Bronx Bombers; by the time the eighth inning started, the Cubbies were up 7-2 on the Yanks-- and were threatening to pull even further away from New York.

In the ninth, Cubs reliever Joe Borowski hammered the final nail in the Yankees’ coffin by striking out the first two batters he faced and retiring the third one on a grounder to reserve infielder Randall Simon at first base. For Simon, who had been sent in to pinch-hit for Grudzielanek in the seventh inning, it was second time that night his glove had helped Chicago’s cause; the first was in the eighth inning when he tagged Jason Giambi out on a rundown play. The minute Simon stepped on the bag at first to confirm the game-ending out, the crowd at Wrigley Field roared in a euphoric frenzy-- after almost a century of bitter disappointments and mind-boggling lapses in judgment, the Chicago Cubs, the most star-crossed team in the National League, were just nine innings away from claiming their first World Series pennant since 1908....


To Be Continued


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