The 2003 Chicago Cubs were one of the best teams in baseball that season and were managed by the legendary Dusty Baker. They sported an impressive 88-74 record with an identical 44-37 record at home and on the road. They had just managed to hold off the Houston Astros by one game to win the NL Central.
This was a Cubs team that really exceeded expectations from the 2002 season which finished 67-95. After winning the pennant in the NL Central, they beat out the Atlanta Braves 3-2 in the NLDS to give the Franchise it’s first postseason series win since 1908.
The Cubs are one of those franchises that always has bad luck and has been a perennial loser just like the New York Jets, New York Islanders, Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Detroit Lions.
After the Cubs ended their run of 95 years without a postseason series win, it actually seemed like they had exercised their demons and were poised to get to the World Series. In fact, the Cubs were only 5 outs away from making their first World Series appearance since 1945. Then IT happened.
Mark Prior was pitching a three-hit shutout with the Cubs leading 3-0 in the eighth inning and a 3-2 series lead over the Florida Marlins. Steve Bartman’s life changed forever after this play, and we’ll probably never see or hear from him ever again. There were plenty of fans clamoring for fan interference which would have given the Cubs the out and let Bartman off the hook, but umpire Mike Everitt never made the call.
After that it went from bad to worse for Steve Bartman and the Chicago Cubs. The Marlins managed to put up eight runs in that inning after the Cubs committed a comedy of errors. Mark Prior left a curveball hanging on an 0-2 count to Ivan Rodriguez and then Alex Gonzalez failed to field a ground ball from Miguel Cabrera. Eventually, the Marlins went up 8-3 and won the game. In Game 7, it wasn’t much different, the Cubs lost a 5-3 lead and the Marlins won 9-6.
2003 was the last time that the Chicago Cubs actually won a playoff game. They were swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2007 NLDS and Los Angeles Dodgers the year after in the 2008 NLDS. The Cubs haven’t been to the playoffs since then and their wait for real postseason success continues.
Now we get to the all important question, what if Steve Bartman hadn’t touched that foul ball? Moises Alou, who made a play on the ball said in the Catching Hell 30 for 30 documentary, “I’m convinced 100% that I had that ball in my glove.”
Whether Alou caught the ball or if the umpire called fan interference then Mark Prior would have most likely stayed on the mound to at least finish off the inning. If Alou catches that foul ball then there’s a good chance that Mark Prior would have come in the 9th inning to pitch a complete game shutout.
Prior finished with 119 pitches after getting battered for three runs but that out would have probably put him around 100-110 pitches with only one out left to end the inning. Either way Prior would have finished out the game or closer Joe Borowski, who had 33 saves would have shut the door in the 9th.
Let’s say the Cubs win the pennant in Game 6. They would have gone on to play the best team in baseball, the New York Yankees who finished with a dominant 101-61 record. Despite the Yankees intimidating 101 wins, the Cubs would have still had a decent shot to win the World Series.
The biggest reason why is because of the Cubs pitching. Their pitching staff was young yet dominant the entire season, their three best pitchers were under the age of 26. Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano and Kerry Wood were filthy that season:
Carlos Zambrano (22): 13-11 with a 3.18 ERA and 1.31 WHIP with 168 strikeouts
Mark Prior (22): 18-6 with a 2.45 ERA and 1.10 WHIP with 245 strikeouts
Kerry Wood (26): 14-11 with a 3.20 ERA and 1.19 WHIP with 266 strikeouts
A staff this good would have been able to pitch on less days rest if necessary. Believe or not, the Cubs fared well against the Yankees that season. They played one three game set with the Yanks and won 2-1.
In the two games they won, Kerry Wood out-dueled Roger Clemens and Mark Prior got the W over Andy Pettitte. It isn’t that much of a stretch to say that the Cubs could have taken that series to six or seven games with the Yankees. Or they could have won it all for the first time since 1908, but we’ll never know because of Steve Bartman.
Finally in 2015, Cubs fans finally have something to be excited about. This season the Cubs currently have an 83-61 record with a firm 7 1/2 game hold on the 2nd wild card spot. They would have to play the Pittsburgh Pirates in the winner-take-all Wild Card game to get into the NLDS but anything is possible.
The Cubs once again have aces in Jon Lester and Jake Arietta plus plenty of hitting. The Cubs have young players with star potential like Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez and Addison Russell plus a core of Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Dexter Fowler and Chris Coghlan. If they manage to get past the Pittsburgh Pirates then they will be a dangerous team in October but if they lose, the wait for a postseason series win will have to wait another long year.